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Coqui frogs nearly eradicated

LAWAI — After four years of work and more than $700,000 invested, the Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee can now count on two hands the number of calling coqui frogs at the Lawai infestation site, Project Manager Keren Gundersen said yesterday.

“It’s the best example of a partnership project that anyone has had,” she said.

The county stepped up to the plate when the state balked and volunteers backed the crews in the field. Clutch decisions and intense labor averted a potentially irreversible disaster for the Garden Isle, officials said, pointing at the Big Island’s amphibious invasion as an example of what could have been.

Gundersen delivered a progress report to the Kaua‘i County Council on Wednesday at the Historic County Building.

The Lawai site last year seemed an almost insurmountable task with an uncountable number of the dime-sized frogs, Gundersen said.

From November to May, the crew worked 1,785 hours, up from less than 600 hours during the same period the previous year.

The workers have similarly intensified their repeated treatments of citric acid, lime and herbicide at the 20-acre infestation site.

The coqui frog was accidentally introduced into Hawai‘i from Puerto Rico around 1988, according to the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

Aside from being a major noise nuisance, the frogs pose a threat to the state’s island ecosystem. Coqui frogs have a voracious appetite that puts Hawai‘i’s unique insects and spiders at risk. They can also compete with endemic birds and other native fauna that rely on insects for food, the college’s Web site states.

There were more than 200 infestation sites on the Big Island alone in 2007, according to the most recent data on the college’s Web site. There are 40 or more infestations present on Maui and five sites on O‘ahu.

The Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee, or KISC as it is commonly called, regularly responds to reports of coqui frogs at other locations on island, but Lawai is the only official infestation site.

Last week, a crew responded again to calling frogs at a Wailua nursery, found the frogs and removed them.

The frogs are believed to have come in on untreated plant shipments, said Gundersen, who is advocating for a mobile hot water treatment system at ports.

There were 13 coqui reports since November, Gundersen said, but only two were confirmed. The coqui looks similar to the greenhouse frog, but has a loud two-tone call and rounder body shape.

Funding concerns for the eradication project continue to be multifold.

Gundersen said it was a “huge surprise” when she recently learned the state Legislature decided against dedicating any funds this fiscal year to Kaua‘i’s coqui eradication efforts. She was anticipating receiving $75,000 for the project.

Fortunately, she said, the state Department of Agriculture has offered to contribute a container of 44,000 pounds of citric acid to the effort. The donation has an estimated value of $33,000.

The state gave $50,000 in 2006 and again in 2007. In 2008, the state provided $100,000 in funding.

Meanwhile, the county in 2006 provided $61,000 before stepping up in 2007 with $320,000 for the effort. In fiscal year 2008, the county provided zero dollars.

Other funding has come from Kukui‘ula Development and in-kind person-hours, equipment and materials.

Gundersen said she has been able to stretch the money out, but expects to run out by the end of this calendar year.

The council asked her to submit a proposal for outreach and prevention funds.

“The frogs are still coming,” Gundersen said. “If we can eradicate the new introductions, then we can prevent the same scenario that we have in Lawa‘i.”

Gundersen said she agrees with Councilman Jay Furfaro in that the county needs to remain prepared for an outbreak.

But with that in mind, she said it is time for the emphasis to shift to prevention and outreach.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said.

KISC is committed to monitor the Lawa‘i site a year after no calling frogs are heard, Gundersen said.

Visit www.kauaiisc.org for more information or call 643-PEST to report a possible invasive species.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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