MAUI “FROG SQUAD” TO TACKLE NOISY COQUI

MAUI “FROG SQUAD” TO TACKLE NOISY COQUI

By Valerie Monson

WAILUKU, Maui (The Maui News, Nov. 26) –Coming soon to a coqui-infested neighborhood near you: frog squads.

Horrified at a recent news report that state wildlife officials on Oahu had given up on ridding Maui of the notorious frogs no bigger than a quarter, Valley Isle residents have banded together with government agencies to leap into action.

"We did it with dengue fever, we conquered it, we did it," said Penny Dant of the Maui Outdoor Circle. "We can do it with the frogs."

The kickoff of the Maui Coqui Frog Working Group last week pulled together those experienced in tracking down the frogs and members of the community who have suffered firsthand from the noisy effects of one of the island's newer - and more annoying - alien species.

"We want to prevent what's happened on the Big Island," said Laurel Murphy, who has heard the deafening racket of the frogs near Lava Tree State Park. "But we have to do it now - we don't have a minute to lose."

Last month, an invasive species specialist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources was reported to have said that the tiny frogs with the big shrieks were so widespread on the Big Island and Maui that eradication seemed unlikely on the two islands. He said officials were trying to control the populations in specific areas where people lived.

Almost immediately, letters to the editor in The Maui News began appearing from homeowners distressed that the state had seemingly abandoned plans to make Maui frog-free. Mayor Alan Arakawa had the same feeling and told Rob Parsons, his executive assistant for environmental concerns, to find out how the county could get involved.

"The mayor thought the story that said eradication was unlikely was giving people a defeatist attitude," said Parsons, also a member of the new working group. "He wanted to know what we could do."

The Maui Invasive Species Committee also protested that its members had not given up on the effort to eradicate coqui from Maui. The agency appealed to residents to assist in the effort.

The coqui frog was first seen on Maui in 1997, probably after arriving as a hitchhiker in a bromeliad, but has multiplied by leaps and bounds ever since. At last count (and officials acknowledge the survey is outdated), at least 40 colonies had been established all over Maui. Resorts, plant nurseries and homeowners have been impacted by the din of the male frogs seeking a mate after dark. One popular guidebook even lists the coqui among "the hazards" of Maui along with leptospirosis and traffic. The book goes on to inform readers that West Maui is "slightly froggier" than South Maui.

Well aware of the destruction that the frogs have wrought on the Big Island, Murphy and others joined in support of the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC). Teya Penniman, MISC manager, said the timing "worked out really well," tying into an upcoming public education campaign to make residents more aware.

"It's better when the community comes to us instead of us telling you what to do," said Penniman. "It's all of us coming together."

Also joining the working group were Maui-based representatives of the state Department of Agriculture and the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The goal of the group: "To address the coqui frog infestation in the most efficient way we can," said Penniman.

Early next year, community associations and other local organizations will be invited to learn what's available to attack the coqui and how they can become part of neighborhood frog squads to seek and destroy the critters. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 15 at Maui Community College in Room 205 of the Community Service Building.

Dant said her family's sleep was nearly ruined last spring by a single male frog that staked a claim to their Pukalani home. She said she finally called MISC officials, who captured the coqui and gave the family their peace back.

"It just takes one frog to make you go nuts," said Dant.

Residents tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to defining how serious of a problem the coqui is: those who have heard the frogs or been forced to live with their maddening calls and those who live in areas yet to be affected.

"People aren't going to pay attention until they know their neighbors have got the frogs and they're next," said Steve Sutrov of the Maui Outdoor Circle and Kula Community Association. "We need to have brochures so they know their recourse. Most everybody is in a reactive state and we need to try to get people to be pro-active."

The Maui working group hopes to affiliate with a similar group on the Big Island to get a head start. Already, though, founding members were talking about forming subcommittees on education, information and legislative action. Brochures already in print will be distributed and frog squads of volunteers will help neighborhoods carry out their attacks.

The most effective way to kill the frogs is by spraying them with a solution of citric acid, an additive found in many foods. When applied in higher concentrations, the acid kills the coqui. Parsons said the county was ready to help MISC prepare smaller packages of citric acid for the public since most people wouldn't want to buy and don't need the standard 50-pound sacks. (Maui Outdoor Circle member Hunton Conrad donated $100 for the repackaging effort.) Directions will be attached to the smaller bags.

Even then, residents might be leery, Penniman realized.

"It's one thing to say 'OK, homeowner, here's your brochure and your citric acid,' " she said. "But they might not want to touch a frog, they might be elderly, they might not want to handle citric acid. So we have a smaller group of people who can help them."

Those smaller groups will become the frog squads.

There was also a discussion about offering "frog-free seals of approval" to nurseries that have been found to be without coqui. The businesses could post the stickers on their front doors so customers would be assured the plants they buy are safe.

"We need to invite the nurseries to the meetings - those that have the frogs and those that don't," said Fern Duvall of Forestry and Wildlife.

Penniman wanted nursery owners to feel comfortable about calling MISC for assistance and didn't want the working group to become antagonistic with businesses infested with frogs. That will only make owners more resistant to allowing officials on the property to help, she said.

However, everyone agreed that customers could pressure their nursery owners to clean up the frogs - or lose their patronage.

While Dant was concerned about the frogs in Maliko Gulch - only a hop, skip and jump away from the rain forests of Hana - Duvall said the group needed to keep its focus and not take on too much at the beginning.

"Homeowners can get their populations under control and nurseries can, too, because if they have frogs, they're probably losing money and will have an incentive," said Duvall. "Hotels are a controlled environment and they can get their populations under control. All those are doable. It's the wild places like Maliko Gulch that will be harder."

By the end of the week, MISC was already repackaging citric acid into smaller bundles. Parsons said those would be available from his office after Thanksgiving. Call 270-7960.

Money to fight the frogs remains a problem. There's still no dedicated source of funding, but Penniman said MISC is in the process of setting up a nonprofit organization to accept donations for the cause. For more information on frogs or how to make a contribution, call 573-MISC (573-6472).

November 27, 2003

The Maui News: www.mauinews.com

 

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