Bill seeks funds for Hawaii Ant Lab

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - February 8, 2018
Kirsten Johnson

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would appropriate $750,000 in fiscal year 2018-19 to help combat little fire ants.

Senate Bill 2124 seeks $650,000 for six full-time positions at the Hilo-based Hawaii Ant Lab to maintain ongoing statewide mitigation activities.

The funds also would be used for vehicle and operating costs for public outreach and treatment, ant baits, field equipment, computers and printers, according to the bill. It seeks an additional $100,000 for one Hawaii Ant Lab position focused on West Hawaii-based mitigation efforts.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Gabbard, an Oahu Democrat, passed a second reading this week.

Hilo state Sen. Kai Kahele, along with Puna state Sen. Russell Ruderman, co-signed the bill. It also received testimony in support from Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara. A similar measure introduced last year did not pass.

“The Hawaii Ant Lab has been around about 10 years, and in those 10 years funding has always been fairly irregular,” lab research manager Casper Vanderwoude said Wednesday. “It has depended on competitive grants, so it’s an ongoing process that lurches from grant to grant. … So this would give us some kind of feeling of tenure. And the new funding would bolster our efforts in West Hawaii where, over the past few years, little fire ants have become more prevalent.”

State Rep. Nicole Lowen, who represents North Kona, also introduced House Bill 2046, which would appropriate $50,000 in fiscal year 2018-19 for West Hawaii-specific outreach and education.

Lowen said this week that little fire ants “are particularly destructive because they have the potential to greatly impact agriculture, tourism and property values.”

“This is becoming more widespread in West Hawaii, and any funds we can put toward it now would be very proactive,” she said.

Lowen’s bill cleared a second reading and was referred to the House Finance Committee.