By Wendy Osher
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa is requesting two additional personnel within the Department of Agriculture to conduct pesticide inspections and alien species screening for Maui County.
The request includes an additional worker on Maui, and an employee based on the island of Molokaʻi.
The item was included as a priority item raised by the mayor before state lawmakers this session. It is also more than the single additional hire in Maui County suggested by the governor.
“Currently we only have one person in the County of Maui doing this kind of work,” said Mayor Arakawa in an exclusive interview.
Mayor Arakawa said the request “falls right in line” with the discovery of an invasion of little fire ants on Maui that were found on hāpuʻu ferns shipped to Maui  via distributors at Lowe’s and Home Depot on Hawaiʻi Island.
“Little fire ants — as tiny as they are — are a very small little ant, but they pack a very big sting/bite and it’s very toxic,” said Arakawa. “You’ll get severe welts for two or three days rather than just two or three hours. It’s been known to blind pets, and cause severe harm to small animals, and could possibly be very harmful for small children as well,” he said.
According to the mayor, county officials have had several meetings with the state focusing on the pest and how to control it.
“Currently we’re working very closely with the state to make sure that the message is getting out to the public, because not only have the little fire ants been brought in on hāpuʻu but on other material as well. Any kind of plant material with a rooting system or nursery material that comes in from the Big Island could possibly have the little fire ants on them,” said Arakawa.
“The Mayor Hāpuʻu is a nursery material that is used in orchids. Anything that can serve as a base for ants to hide in could create a real problem for us.”
While Maui and Molokaʻi has a significant amount of agriculture, Mayor Arakawa said Lānaʻi does not, “so it’s not critical to have an individual stationed there.”
He concluded, “We don’t want this pest to be on the island. They have been known to create huge mounds with literally tens-of-thousands of ants in a mound, and if a child is playing in the yard and happened to be stepping into one of these things, it could be very dangerous. So we want to make sure that this ant never gets to the island as a permanent resident.”
The item was among a list of priorities  the mayor presented before the state Legislature earlier this month.