By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 31) - The Department of Lands and Natural Resources, which started releasing last March a bio-control organism to feed on scarlet or ivy gourd, yesterday said it could take three to five years before the pest vine is eradicated from Saipan.

The vines already cover about 50 percent of the island, Variety learned.

Ivy gourd grows indiscriminately and has also been found in patches on Rota, Tinian and even Sariguan.

These pest vines kill trees, shrubs and other vegetation.

They also cover stationary non-living objects like fences, telephone poles, houses and buildings, raising safety concerns.

DLNR Secretary Tom Pangelinan, in an interview yesterday, said his department "cannot do it alone — we need the community’s help. If you see the ivy gourd in your place, chop them off, cut them, burn them. A coconut tree, for example, that is covered by scarlet gourd can die because of suffocation."

But DLNR said the public should not use bush cutters because they will only scatter the vines’ vegetative parts which may grow into another plant.

From March to July, DLNR released over 500 weevils, which feed exclusively on ivy gourd.

Tim Thornburgh, DLNR grants writer, said the 500 weevils have already multiplied and are controlling the pest vines, especially in areas of greatest concentrations like San Jose, Kagman and Marpi.

"In three to five years, you may not even see scarlet gourd anymore. It takes time for the weevils to eradicate all," said Thornburgh, citing the example of Hawaii.

He said the rainy season is also a factor why the ivy gourds seem to be in abundance on the island.

DLNR believed that a farmer on Capitol Hill introduced the ivy gourd in the late 1980s. But it was only in 1996 that the local government found out that this plant was considered a pest in Hawaii.

By 1997, it had already spread to almost all points on Saipan.

October 31, 2003

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