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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Noisy frogs burden nurseries

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — The noisy coqui tree frog has become more than a nuisance to sleep-deprived residents on three islands.

Advertiser library photo
It is threatening the well-being of the state's plant nurseries as well.

Thousands of the dime-sized frogs have been identified at 226 sites on Maui, O'ahu and the Big Island. In an attempt to stop their spread, the state Department of Agriculture has decided to inspect interisland shipments of house and garden plants starting in mid-November.

Plants infested with coqui will be sent back to the nursery for hot water treatment or a dose of a caffeine-based pesticide.

Two Hawai'i County growers said yesterday the inspections will disrupt exports and increase costs to the state's nursery industry.

Glenn Barfield, who raises orchids in Hakalau on former sugar cane land, said inspection of shipments to O'ahu and the Mainland could cripple his business. "Time is money," said Barfield, who insists his orchids are frog-free.

In Kurtistown, Susan Hamilton and her family raise tropical fruit trees that are sold on O'ahu and elsewhere. She fears the inspections will slow her exports and hurt profits.

Lyle Wong, head of the Agriculture Department's Plant Industry Division, said he understands their concerns, but believes doing nothing would make the situation worse.

He worries the tiny frogs could cause secondary problems by bringing nematodes onto plants grown on benches off the ground, further endangering Hawai'i's nursery export industry.

All certified nurseries shipping to the Mainland must be free of the microscopic soil worm that has been banned by federal officials.

Hamilton and others say the state has been too lax with retail outlets in Hilo, particularly the Wal-Mart nursery, where frog-laden plants have been sold. Hamilton said anyone can drive by the store after 7 p.m. and hear the loud screeches of the coqui.

In Arkansas, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said, "We are doing the best we can and we are working with the state agricultural people."

She pointed out that the plants are provided by local growers.

Wong called the frog invasion a nightmare for state officials.

"I think I may spend the rest of my career trying to kill these frogs," he said.