Fire ant fighters forge ahead

Map of four indicative priority areas for focused eradication activity.

Map of four indicative priority areas for focused eradication activity over the four successive stages of the ten year life of the program, extracted from the Queensland Government Ten Year Eradication Plan Summary Version, National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program South East Queensland 2017–18 to 2026–27.

When state and federal agriculture ministers approved a ten-year, $411 million plan to eradicate red fire ants from southeast Queensland in July 2017, it was a watershed moment. Finally, the program had the long-term funding experts said was needed.

But a long, hard road still lies ahead. Eradicating fire ants from such a large and complex area will be enormously challenging and something no country has yet achieved. But it is worth doing.

Daryl Quinlivan, head of Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, told the national biosecurity roundtable late last year that with new funding, close to a billion dollars would be spent on fire ant eradication. However, due to the benefits of delaying their spread, he reminded us that even if fire ants were not eradicated the billion dollars would have been ‘a good investment’.

So what has happened over the past nine months?

Nine months on

The new funding has already resulted in increased fire ant baiting and surveillance.

The baiting strategy is to work intensively from the western edge of the infestation in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim council areas, then progress east in three more stages.

In the second stage, Logan and part of Ipswich council areas will be treated, then Brisbane City and the rest of the Ipswich area, and finally Redland and Gold Coast council areas. It is not feasible to treat the whole area at once. There will still be surveillance and some treatment in areas awaiting full treatment.

The difficulty in detecting every fire ant nest in an infected area means widespread baiting is necessary and public support is essential. We need people to report fire ant infestations, especially those outside treatment areas, and avoid moving material such as pot plants, soil and mulch that may carry fire ant queens.

A new steering committee overseeing the program has been formed, headed by independent chair Wendy Craik, and consisting of state and federal biosecurity officials. It is another reporting layer, but adds some independent oversight and transparency. The committee has already met three times and summaries of the past two meetings are on the steering committee section of the fire ant eradication website.

Expanding sources of advice

While former Queensland’s Chief Biosecurity Officer Jim Thompson was steering committee interim chair, he committed to an annual stakeholder forum to share information and seek external views. The first stakeholder meeting will be held on Wednesday 9 May this year.

An interjurisdictional scientific advisory body will be established to provide ‘advice and direction on scientific operational aspects’ of the eradication program. A fire ant volunteer rangers program has been created to help with surveillance and raise awareness.

Improved governance

The Invasive Species Council was hopeful of a big shift in the way the red fire ant program was run after it received new funds, modelled on governance recommendations in our ‘Seven Essentials’ report. Wendy Craik wrote to us this year and said our ‘sensible’ recommendations are ‘largely reflected’ in the ten-year work plan.

Many of the changes are in line with our report, but there is still work to do in areas of transparency and community engagement. Quarterly progress reports and a map of infestation areas are not publicly available. The biosecurity zone map that describes fire ant movement restrictions has not been updated since July 2016, despite the detection of new infestations since then.

Elements of effective governance for eradicating red imported fire ants, as recommended in our report Seven Essentials:

  1. Design an effective governance approach, including by consulting stakeholders and seeking the advice of experts.
  2. Ensure structures and processes provide robust oversight and accountability to funders, industry and the community.
  3. Make sure decision-making is transparent so that stakeholders understand the rationale for decisions and can have confidence in the program.
  4. Develop a comprehensive eradication plan that includes techniques, costings, assumptions, roles and responsibilities, milestones.
  5. Create an independent body to ensure the program is managed effectively.
  6. Involve experts from relevant fields for program design, advice and review.
  7. Make sure the community and industry is meaningfully engaged in the program.

No time to lose

It is in the interest of all Australians that we eradicate red fire ants from Brisbane’s suburbs and beyond. Valuable time was lost when federal and state governments took a year to decide to fully fund the red fire ant program after the independent review delivered its findings.

Now there is a renewed determination and funding to eradicate the ants, we cannot let this chance slip by.

More info

Contact the Biosecurity Queensland red fire ant eradication program on 13 25 23 to report potential fire ant sightings and learn about movement restrictions in fire ant affected areas or view their online resources.

Related posts

Fire ant funding approved, but still a hard road ahead
Fire ant fight 2.0: A battle we must win
Seven fire ant essentials

3 Responses to “Fire ant fighters forge ahead”

  1. Tyrone Fernandes 8 April, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    We now have Area 1, Area 2, Area 3, & Area 4. By the end of this year they will add Area 5 & Area 6.
    It is a way to make money vanish with incompetent staff, Directors, and Managers.

  2. Scientific advice has always been that the fire ant infestation in south east Queensland was too established to attempt eradication and the most scientifically sound and best use of public money is an aggressive containment program, with strict controls to prevent the main cause of their spread: human assisted movement: people carelessly or accidentally moving fire ants in loads of soil or mulch. Instead the large team of biosecurity inspectors tasked with working with businesses who deal in fire ant friendly materials to help them mitigate their risk of spreading fire ants and prosecuting those who did not, has been reduced to a mere handful. So for the past 16 years fire ants have moved up and down the highways out of Brisbane to the Gold and Sunshine Coasts and out to the Lockyer Valley to the west. The infestation is now ten times worse than when they were detected in 2001. The new Ten Year Fire Ant Plan says little about an aggressive containment program and is likely to waste another $400m of public money on top of the $400m spent so far.

  3. I do hope we can achieve this objective without interference from politicians looking for money for their re-election pork barrel.