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Agriculture department surveys Waimanalo nursery for fire ants

                                Closed signs are seen at the plant booth after little red fire ants were detected in some of the plants for sale during the Punahou Carnival on Feb. 2.
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Closed signs are seen at the plant booth after little red fire ants were detected in some of the plants for sale during the Punahou Carnival on Feb. 2.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture says it is working with Pua Lani Landscape Design in Waimanalo to survey and treat little fire ants.

The Waimanalo nursery was called out during a joint informational briefing earlier this month, when state legislators grilled HDOA leaders about their response to growing infestations of little fire ants on Oahu.

During the briefing, Pua Lani was named as one among seven businesses that had donated plants to Punahou Carnival, which had to quarantine several hundred due to an infestation with little fire ants.

HDOA said the business had been unresponsive to its attempts to contact and survey it for the ants. Since the donated plants had been dropped off at one collection point and delivered in one truck, HDOA said it was difficult to determine which one donated the infested plants.

Since the briefing, HDOA said it conducted a survey at Pua Lani on May 10, with the full cooperation of the nursery.

The department’s plant quarantine branch deployed more than 630 LFA bait vials throughout the 4-acre nursery, according to HDOA. The little fire ants were not found in plant in the production area, but in some areas along the nursery’s perimeter and near a storage area.

HDOA said Pua Lani worked to treat those areas with an approved pesticide.

The branch conducted a follow-up survey on Monday and found most of the nursery’s perimeter to be clear of LFA, except for one spot near a stream. A survey found LFA in the area across the stream, and the branch will contact landowners there and other surrounding properties to conduct comprehensive surveys.

HDOA said another survey of Pua Lani will be scheduled in about a month.

Following the legislative briefing, Greg Culver, president of Pua Lani Landscape Design, had defended his business.

Pua Lani Landscape Design, Inc., he said, is a local family-owned small business operating in Kailua and Waimanalo since 1981.

“We have worked hard over the years to cultivate a trusting relationship with our community as a company that is honest and culturally responsible,” he said in a statement. “Every member of our team works in the field on a daily basis and has the utmost respect for the delicate ecological balance that makes our island home so special.”

“Over the last decade there has been an explosion in the numbers of invasive species that have been let into the state and allowed to establish themselves, such as LFA and the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle,” he continued. “These pests have become an increasing threat to the environment and our way of life. We treat our property and job sites for these threats on a regular basis using the latest recommended measures and do so at a significant financial cost to the company. We do it because it is important to us to ensure that these pests are never, ever, spread through work that we do or plants that we raise.”

He added that Pua Lani does not import plants from off-island or sell plants to the general public, other landscapers or nurseries, and that a client has never reported LFA on their property as a result of its work.

Little fire ants, or Wasmannia auropunctata, are an invasive species from South America — first found on Hawaii island in 1999 — that can deliver painful stings and potentially blind pets.

To report suspected LFA infestations on Oahu, Kauai, and Maui County, call the state’s toll-free pest hotline at 808-643-PEST (7378).

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