Moving? Avoid spreading unwanted species

Ask anyone who has moved lately – it’s a daunting task. Every move, whether across town, across the state or across the world involves choices: What to take and what to leave behind. Depending on where you are moving to and from, some of the “take it or toss it” decisions can have a major impact on the environment.

Yes, you want to take your prized orchids, but what if they are carrying a pest you don’t want at your new home? Whether you are moving to the Mainland or merely interisland, you should take steps not to bring trouble with you.

Hawaii is particularly susceptible to introductions of foreign species and each Hawaiian island is battling its own unique set of pests – plants, insects or animals that are not found on the other islands.

For example, fireweed is ubiquitous on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui, but it’s on target for eradication on Molokai and Kauai. Red-vented bulbuls, a notorious agricultural pest common on Oahu, haven’t yet invaded Maui. How could one of these noisy birds find its way into your luggage? You’d be surprised.

Red-vented bulbuls are cavity nesters. While they most often nest in tree trunks, these opportunists have been known to squeeze into the ends of curtain rods or the tops of ceiling fans. These pestiferous birds are suspected of making it to the Marshall Islands as stowaways in a cargo container.

Less conspicuous than bulbuls are coqui frogs. These tiny hoppers can easily travel with potted plants. Gardening and yard supplies like hoses, weed mats and empty pots are perfect habitats for this noisy amphibian, so check twice before packing these things if coqui frogs are already in your neighborhood. If you do choose to bring plants or gardening gear, make sure they are clean and frog free. Contact your local invasive species committee for treatment information.

One of the tiniest yet most damaging interisland hitchhikers is the stinging little fire ant, now widespread in parts of the Big Island. An infested property can have millions of ants. One square foot can have more than 1,800 worker ants with three to seven queens. It only takes one queen and fewer than a dozen workers to start a new colony. The ants can set up shop anywhere – a bed, macadamia nut shells, a computer or golf bag. So it’s easy to accidentally transfer a satellite colony to a new location. If you are moving from a little-fire-ant zone be sure you’re not packing a pest. Your family, pets and new neighbors will appreciate it.

Shipping your car? Automobiles have been the source of new coqui populations. The small frogs find car bumpers and undercarriages the perfect place to amplify their calls. On a windy day, little fire ants rain down from trees into the beds of pickups and crevices of cars, coming along for the ride to find new habitat to invade. If you live in an infested area, check your car and consult the experts for how to rid these species from your belongings. That way you can move without compromising quiet nights and peaceful time outdoors.

Are your pets moving with you? If you have a cat or dog, just check with the airline, but if your pet is on the “exotic” range of the spectrum – birds, chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs and even lizards – it should be cleared with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. The Jackson’s chameleon, often kept as a pet on Maui, is not established on Lanai, Molokai or Kauai. It’s an invasive species that can harm endangered Hawaiian snails and other native invertebrates if it becomes established in wild areas.

When you are researching a big move, take a few minutes to investigate how to avoid spreading unwanted species to your new home. If you are moving interisland, the island-based invasive species committees are good sources of information. Call the local office or find out online what they are working to control. Any plant material should be inspected by the Department of Agriculture before going interisland. Find the contact for your local Plant Quarantine Office at Bring the memories – but leave the pests behind.

* Lissa Fox Strohecker is the public relations and education specialist for the Maui Invasive Species Committee. She holds a biological sciences degree from Montana State University. Kia’i Moku, “Guarding the Island,” is prepared by the Maui Invasive Species Committee to provide information on protecting the island from invasive plants and animals that can threaten the island’s environment, economy and quality of life.