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MISC looks to expand coqui frog control efforts in Peahi

Organization seeks community’s help while it focuses on hard-to-reach areas

David Bagda (left) and Terry Tolman spray citric acid solution on overgrown brush as part of the Maui Invasive Species Committee coqui frog control program, which is made up mostly by community volunteers. Equipment and supplies as well as training are provided by MISC officials. MAUI INVASIVE SPECIES COMMITTEE Photos

To continue to address invasive coqui frogs on the North Shore and achieve a coqui-free Maui, the Maui Invasive Species Committee is seeking to expand a control program in Peahi, which may be a hotspot for frog “hitchhikers.”

MISC is considering two options to mitigate the spread of single coqui frogs around Peahi, including forming a community coqui control group with local participants and/or hiring a temporary crew to focus on the area for about five months.

“At this time, we feel that MISC is unable to eradicate the coqui from Peahi without additional community support,” said Susan Frett, the community coqui control coordinator. “Currently our resources are stretched very thin and we haven’t been able to significantly address this area for the past few months.”

Averaging only seven full-time staff, MISC’s coqui crew has eliminated 22 populations of coqui frogs across Maui as of August with the help of community and county support.

There are currently nine active sites left, including a few outliers near Five Corners in Haiku, areas east of Giggle Hill, and Peahi.

The MISC coqui crew smiles for a photo after delivering large containers of powdered citric acid at the Old Maui High School campus, the organization’s new base yard where they have a temporary agreement to house equipment and supplies for invasive species control efforts, such as the little fire ant project, invasive plants, and coqui frog control.

Peahi is a potential hotspot for “hitchhiking coqui” to jump on cars and other materials, like plants, and be transported to other parts of Maui, Frett said last week during a Haiku Community Association town hall meeting.

“We know this area is important to a lot of people,” Frett added. “There’s a lot of visitors to the area for the winter surfing season, and others visiting the area for recreation and cultural practices.”

The Peahi Coqui Control Program would need about six to 12 interested community volunteers to work once every six weeks. MISC would supply premixed citric acid, spray equipment and supplies.

The other option includes hiring a temporary crew from nonprofit company American Conservation Experience, which is anticipated to cost about $125,000. The funding could come from grants or donations, Frett said.

“Without this effort to focus on these outlying coqui frogs, we would have coqui frogs across Maui by this point,” she said. “Coqui frogs reproduce very quickly, which is why they’re such a threat. It’s important to interrupt their reproductive cycle.”

Resident volunteer George Grandy sprays citric acid solution as a preventative measure for coqui frogs, which are invasive to Hawaii. There are currently nine active sites left on Maui, including the few outliers near Five Corners in Haiku, areas east of Giggle Hill, and Peahi.

There are 34 populations of coqui frogs on Maui, but 22 have been eradicated as of November, Frett said. Maliko Gulch has the largest population of coqui on the island.

“This number is sort of highlighting the success that we’ve had with the approach that we’ve taken, but we still have work to do,” she said.

The ultimate goal is to have all the residential communities in the surrounding areas of Maliko Gulch involved in the control programs so that MISC staff can focus on the more hard-to-reach areas, said Manager Adam Radford.

“If we’re going to win the war against coqui, then we’re going to need community support,” Radford said.

Hawaii has no native amphibians, though there are six nonnative species that now live in the state after they were introduced by people. Only the coqui frog (Eleutherodactyls coqui) is targeted for removal in Maui County, according to MISC.

These tiny frogs are difficult to find, but their calls are very loud.

Gulches with thick brush and overgrown plants, like areas in Haiku, are the types of settings that can ignite a spread of coqui, which is why MISC staff are seeking to maintain the Peahi Coqui Control Program.

MISC mitigates the rapid growth of coqui frog populations by controlling hotspots or responding quickly to single outliers.

Control methods include hand-capturing single frogs; acoustic monitoring; habitat modification, such as trimming back plants, mowing or removing piles of dead plant materials; spraying a 14 percent citric-acid solution; installing barrier fences; and implementing community engagement programs throughout several neighbors, all of which have proven to be effective.

From October to December 2020, a team installed nearly 3,000 feet of pipeline to deliver citric acid solution to infested hard-to-reach areas in the Peahi and Kauhikoa gulches, Education Specialist Lissa Strohecker wrote on MISC’s website in March of last year. Over 115,000 gallons of citric solution were distributed across roughly 100 acres was used.

“The mauka portions of these sites are now relatively quiet, thanks to the crew’s efforts, including the removal of coqui habitat,” Strohecker wrote.

In East Maui, individual outlier coqui have been contained in Keanae and Hana due to early detection and rapid response, which is made possible by quick community reporting and follow-ups. MISC categorizes a population of frogs as five or more calling males in an area; to date, it has not detected this amount of frogs in East Maui.

Even after no calling frogs remain and the night is silent, the crew will return to each site for a year to ensure the coqui are truly gone.

Outlying populations of coqui have been managed across the Valley Isle by a combination of efforts by MISC staff, residents and state Department of Agriculture staff, Frett said.

Another major tool that has helped MISC control these invasive species has been the ability to store coqui supplies at the main operations headquarters at the Old Maui High School in Hamakuapoko for the past 16 months under a temporary Maui County right-of-entry agreement, Radford said Friday.

The Friends of Old Maui High School organization has dedicated office and storage space for MISC to stage invasive species control efforts for the little fire ant project, invasive plants and coqui frogs, including the latest citric acid shipment, which should be enough to supply them for the next several years.

“We hope to continue these efforts going forward,” Radford said. “MISC is very grateful for the support from FOMHS, alumni we have spoken with and others within the Maui community who know about our presence on the campus.”

Radford said that they are working out details for a proposed long-term lease with the county that could help them continue MISC operations, maintenance to the infrastructure and the vision toward a future Patsy T. Mink Center for Environmental Education.

They hope to have an agreement in place before the end of 2022.

Still, MISC is seeking public input as they move forward before any decisions are made.

The organization will be scheduling meetings to share proposed use of the campus and how they would “honor the legacy of its noted alumni, especially Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink.”

Anyone who would like to donate to MISC can find out more information at https://mauiinvasive.org/donate/.

Anyone interested in volunteering or working on the coqui project in Peahi or another area in Haiku should contact Susan Frett at (808) 633-6646 or skfrett@hawaii.edu.

For other volunteering opportunities at MISC, contact Serena Fukushima at miscpr@hawaii.edu or (808) 344-2756.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossmand@mauinews.com.

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