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Little Fire Ants on Cactus

It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a neighborhood to get rid of little fire ants (LFA). The invasive species is so fearsome that residents of Hawaiʻi Island have abandoned yards, gardens and sometimes entire rooms in their houses to avoid the nasty sting.  An abundance of misinformation about dealing with the LFA has combined with overworked experts and frustrated residents to create a larger problem than the island community should have to endure.

The Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC), a project of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, is working to overcome these obstacles, putting effective, proven treatments into the hands of Hawaiʻi residents. Residents are trained to combat the LFA together with neighbors on adjacent properties, increasing the treatments’ efficacy while decreasing the cost per residence, without demanding constant, direct involvement by experts.

Neighbors attend information sessions, then consult with each other to determine their neighborhoods’ best strategies and goals. Once they’ve committed to regular treatments of their properties, the BIISC gives them hands-on workshops, teaching them to prepare baits and treatments for their residences. BIISC also coordinates further goal-setting, treatment schedules, meeting dates and bulk purchases of supplies in order to reduce costs, divide work and minimize effort and time.

The program proved effective in combating ants, with reductions up to 80 percent in LFA counts.

In its first year, the program has conducted information sessions in five districts on the island, with 13 groups of neighbors completing the training. Twelve of the 13 groups have continued to treat for LFA each month, for a total of 215 separate properties on 222 acres. In 2017, thanks in part to a grant from the Change Happens Foundation, the LFA will continue to work with the 12 active neighborhood teams and add up to 12 more, also introducing training programs for landscapers and yard service providers.

Empowering communities to cooperate against a shared threat, the BIISC hopes to continue its training program, uniting neighbors and ridding Hawaiʻi of this non-native pest.

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