Coquis and EPA

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Saludos-Greetings-Aloha to one and all in the new year.

When I wrote last May about the unwelcomed arrival of the Puerto Rican coqui frogs to Hawaiian shores, little did I know that there was going to be such a heated debate in blogosphere. Personal feelings aside, the multiple responses received motivated me to actually find out what is the Agency’s role in addressing the growth of the coqui population throughout the 50th state. After making several calls and sending some emails, I was surprised to find that EPA’s role is limited.

In fact, the Agency was asked to step in the control efforts when the State of Hawaii needed an exemption to use an unregistered product to control the coquis. EPA is involved in this issue because products sold and used as pesticides must be evaluated and approved by the Agency under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to ensure they can be used safety and without posing any unreasonable risks to people or the environment. In this case, Hawaii has requested an emergency exemption to use an unregistered product (calcium hydroxide or hydrated lime) as a pesticide in a quarantine program to control the invasive species, the Coqui. Hawaii is concerned that the frogs pose a serious threat to both agriculture and to the native Hawaiian forest ecosystems, including endangered species. I have been informed that the Agency is in the process of reviewing this request. Currently, there is a multiagency effort to stop the spread of the coqui in Hawaii led by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

While I confess that this dialogue in Greenversations has been eye-opening, I still yearn for the nocturnal coqui chants I experienced in my youth. Recently a friend asked why the coquís in Hawaii seem so much louder and active than the original coquis in their natural setting. In addition to the invasive nature of the coqui in Hawaii, I think we also can attribute the contrasts largely to the differences in population density and urban sprawl. In Hawaii, the population density is 188.6 inhabitants for square mile. In Puerto Rico, it’s 1,127 inhabitants for square mile! While there are numerous groups to save the coquí in Hawaii let’s not forget the plight of the coqui in Puerto Rico.