Schatz, Legislature seek help to combat spittlebug

  • An adult two-lined spittle bug. Both adult and nymph forms feed on plants by sucking out nutrients. (Courtesy Photo/Big Island Invasive Species Committee)

A U.S. senator has requested federal assistance to manage an invasive insect that has devastated thousands of acres of pasture land on the Big Island.

Sen. Brian Schatz wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Wednesday requesting help to mitigate damage from the invasive two-lined spittlebug, a pest that has destroyed more than 125,000 acres of cattle grazing grass on the Big Island since its first discovery on the island in 2016.

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Schatz’s letter requests that the U.S. Farm Service Agency contact ranchers who have lost pastureland to the spittlebug to help them secure any federal aid they are entitled to, as well as the assistance of the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center to develop control measures to prevent further losses.

“This invasive pest could destroy Hawaii’s proud heritage of ranching by decimating the pastures that allow Hawaii cattle to grow strong and healthy,” Schatz’s letter read. “Our ranchers need your help urgently to maintain this vibrant part of Hawaii’s agricultural economy.”

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The letter was sent on the same day that a pair of state bills targeting the bug passed through their first committees.

Both bills request that the state allocate some sum — one bill requests $1 million, the other only an undetermined amount — to the state Department of Agriculture for spittlebug recovery efforts.

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