[Editor’s note: This story was updated at 3:50pm on June 20 to include a statement from Andaz Maui Resort]
The news traveled fast on Wednesday, June 18: back in May, state and local agriculture officials had found an “infestation” of dreaded little fire ants at an unnamed Wailea hotel. KITV, KHON, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Maui Now and The Maui News all ran stories on the infestation–none of which named the hotel. But the stories did all include the same quote, from Hawaii Board of Agriculture Chairman Scott Enright:
“The area of infestation was caught early and crews are extremely confident that it can be eradicated. We cannot express enough how important it is to find any infestation before it becomes widely established.”
See, all the stories were based on the same news release sent out by the state Department of Agriculture, which did not include the name of the hotel. Only The Maui News even asked an official for the name, but was rebuffed by a county official and ultimately printed no name.
In fact, according to a county official with knowledge of the infestation, the hotel was the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. When I contacted Murphy O’Brien Public Relations–which handles the media for the Andaz–this morning to learn more about how the hotel discovered the ants, and the steps they took to get them under control, Senior Account Executive Maggie Holmes sent me the following email:
“Thank you for reaching out to us about this matter. I am speaking with the resort and will be in touch very soon.”
That was 9:30 or so this morning. When I called Holmes at 2:30pm, she said the following:
“We’re working with MISC. We have a statement drafted, but we’re just getting their approval.”
Holmes said she would send out the statement by the end of the day, but by press time, I haven’t yet received anything. I will update this post when I receive their statement.
Holmes finally sent out the statement at 3:30pm:
“Little fire ants were found at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort in May 2014. Upon discovery, the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort acted immediately to eradicate the ants from the property, working in close cooperation with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) and Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC). The finding was extremely small and confined to a landscaped area of the property – less than 400 square feet on a 15-acre property.
“There is no known threat to the public or hotel guests. The Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort takes the welfare and safety of its guests very seriously and is committed to long-term monitoring and treatment as necessary.
“Teya Penniman, manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, said, ‘Everyone we worked with at Andaz Maui, from the landscapers to management staff, was very cooperative. They want to do the right thing – get rid of the ants.'”
So why all the secrecy about the location of the fire ant infestation–which seems to be under control and contained to a 400-square foot location? Teya Penniman, who manages the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC), told The Maui News that her office has a “policy” of not naming properties involved in such problems. Here’s what she said when I asked her for more details on that policy, which actually isn’t so much a “policy” as it is an “approach:”
“It’s not a written policy but has been part of our standard approach ever since MISC was formed in 1999. We have worked on thousands of properties over the years. Some landowners aren’t concerned about whether other people know what is on their property; for others a sense of privacy and confidentiality is extremely important. We enter private (and public) property to survey for and control invasive species only with the explicit permission of the landowner. For nocturnal species such as the coqui frog, we have to be on site in the evening. We do not have any statutory authority to enter private property so developing positive relationships with landowners including a sense that we can be trusted is critical to our success. Sharing information about what we found or saw or did would violate that sense of trust and ultimately be detrimental to our overall objectives.”
This seems fine when dealing with miconia or even nuisances like coqui frogs, but what happens when the invasive species actually pose a health threat? Little fire ants have been known to blind pets, and can cause extremely painful bites in humans.
If invasive species like little fire ants are as pernicious and scary as organizations like organizations like MISC say they are, then this seems to be a very tenuous way of combatting them. It’s based entirely on secret pacts between county officials and private property owners, in which members of the public are told simply to trust everyone involved.
In any case, click here for more information on little fire ants. To report little fire ants, call the state’s Pest Hotline at 808-643-7378.
Photo of little fire ants: Bob Peterson/Wikimedia Commons