A third-party audit contracted by the Maui County Council found that efforts of the Maui Invasive Species Committee to control or eradicate coqui frogs lack the measurements needed to determine the overall effectiveness of the program. The audit was transmitted to the council at its July 5 meeting and referred to the Environmental, Agricultural, and Cultural Preservation Committee for further discussion.
While the audit acknowledged that “With over 47,000 hours of programmatic hours spent in 2018, there is little doubt that MISC’s efforts have had some impact on containing and eradicating such species,” it added that the program has not given a satisfactory overall picture of the magnitude of that impact.
In fiscal years 2017 and 2018, MISC received about $2.8M in county grant funds in order to control the coqui population, in a combination of environmental protection grants ($1.8M) and coqui eradication grants ($1M). However, the reporting metrics of the coqui eradication grants only require MISC to tell the Office of Economic Development the number of acres treated, number of staff hours focused on the Maliko Gulch project, and gallons of citric acid applied. “Without any context or goals to measure these figures against, it is difficult to determine the ultimate meaning or impact of MISC’s efforts,” stated the audit.
The environmental protection grants require more nuanced reporting toward goals, but the auditors continued to find MISC’s reports to be lacking data to support its conclusions.
The murkiness surrounding the program’s success could impact public trust, the auditors said. Referencing the community concern about coqui frog infestations which resulted in the council’s initiation of the audit, they wrote, “OED should be aware that its previous approvals and monitoring of the grants are not designed in a way to provide citizens or county officials sufficient information to assess the spread or containment of coqui frogs in Maui County.”
They continued, “Vague, overly broad or unrelated metrics pose the risk of garnering adverse reactions from the public and county officials that either 1) no progress is being made; or 2) no one knows if progress is being made.”
The audit concludes with three recommendations. First, OED and MISC should collaborate to create quantifiable performance goals. Second, MISC and OED should agree on a timeline for areas to be 100 percent coqui-free, if that is the goal. Lastly, OED should ensure that it is properly monitoring MISC and whether it is meeting its goals.
While this all seems simple, there are a few complicating factors. The first is that counting coqui frogs is a difficult task. The inch-long amphibians only make noises at night, and if they are counted by sound that only accounts for the males (females are silent). MISC told auditors they were considering using acoustic monitors to help with this task.
The other reason is more philosophical: Is the county committed to eradicating 100 percent of the coqui population on Maui?
“When asked whether 100 percent eradication of coqui frogs was achievable,” the auditors wrote, “MISC personnel did not provide a definitive answer, but stated that they continually reevaluate their goals based on resources and funding.”
Meanwhile, the price tag to eradicate all the coqui frogs in Maliko Gulch is in the range of $4.6M to over $15M, MISC said. Yet, in the fiscal year 2020 budget, which went into effect on July 1, the county appropriated just $2.5M for the Coqui Frog Eradication Project.
You hear that? Coqui, coqui…
Image courtesy Flickr/AngieShyRigh