- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Two bills supporting efforts to combat invasive pests on the Big Island, including one that attacks a highly profitable agricultural crop in Hawaii, have failed to make it through the state Senate.

The legislation, which addresses little fire ants and an insect that kills macadamia trees, was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee after passing the House in March. However, the bills never received a hearing before the committee and did not meet a deadline to move forward in the Senate, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/1NbU2b8).

Macadamia nuts are one of the highest-grossing agricultural crops in the state, with most orchards being on the Big Island. The legislation aimed at mitigating the impacts of the macadamia felted coccid, an invasive species that causes dieback in macadamia trees, would have provided funding for more research and treatment.

In 2014, legislators appropriated $360,000 to create a research partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii to study the insect and how it could be treated. Two of Hawaii’s largest macadamia growers, the Edmund C. Olson Trust and the Royal Hawaiian Orchard, had supplemented the appropriation with $160,000 in funding.

The little fire ant bill would have launched a pilot coupon program allowing residents with infestations to receive a year’s worth of appropriate treatment. The legislation would have also required the agricultural department to conduct a study of all infestation sites.

This year marked the second time Democratic Rep. Richard Onishi (Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano) had proposed the fire ant bill, and the second time it was held up in the Senate.

“We are trying to look at other potential avenues to have the Department (of Agriculture) set up the program,” Onishi said. “The department’s supportive of setting up the program, but trying to get the funds necessary to actually provide the coupons and stuff is the challenge.”

While funding efforts to fight the two invasive insects have fallen short, a bill aimed at mitigating the impacts of a fungus that has been threatening the Big Island’s native forests has seen a success.

The bill to fund research and preventative measures for the disease known as rapid ohia death, which has killed hundreds of thousands of the island’s ohia trees, passed both the House and Senate. Legislators are working to determine how much will be appropriated to fight the fungus.


Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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