EPA approves caffeine to fight coqui frog
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer
State agriculture officials say they have gained an important new weapon in the war against the noisy coqui frog.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved an exemption in federal law that will allow the use of caffeine against the tiny frogs, which have infested 226 Big Island sites as well as numerous locales on Maui, O'ahu and Kaua'i.
Hawai'i agricultural officials requested the exemption after tests by U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel indicated that caffeine was an effective agent in killing the invasive species known for its piercing mating calls.
James Nakatani, chairman of the state Department of Agriculture, said the department will add the "judicious use'' of caffeine spray to its anti-frog arsenal, which includes capture, altering the creature's habitat and pesticides.
The EPA action allows the use of caffeine only by pesticide applicators certified by the state. Permits also will be required for each area treated with caffeine.
Homeowners and others are not allowed to use caffeine against the frogs because of risks associated with its use. Those particularly susceptible to caffeine hazards include children under the age of 2, pregnant women, children taking medication for asthma or attention-deficit disorder, and people with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or circulatory problems.
Under the EPA order, the department can apply caffeine on a total of 2,000 acres of natural areas, nurseries and in plantings near residences and resorts. The department also is required to monitor the effects of the caffeine application on other creatures, including insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and humans.
Bob Boesch, the department's pesticide branch manager, said officials are still trying to figure out a game plan for application of the caffeine, which could cost as much as $2,000 per acre.
"We don't want to waste a lot of it because it's expensive,'' he said. "We're still trying to develop a technology to apply it precisely.''
Residents who think they hear coqui frogs in their yard at night are advised to go out with a flashlight and capture them by hand or use a jar with a lid to contain the frog, then call the state's Pest Hotline at 586-PEST (586-7378) on O'ahu; 974-4000, ext. 67378, on the Big Island; 984-2400, ext. 67378, on Maui; 274-3141, ext. 67379, on Kaua'i; and (800) 468-4644, ext. 67378, on Moloka'i and Lana'i.