On 10th February 2021, Biosecurity Queensland posted a ‘Fire Ant Alert’, complete with swarming fire ants, flashing lights and sirens, to a select group of Facebook followers. Not to all Biosecurity Queensland’s Facebook followers and not to the general public who are paying for the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program.
On 17th February, the Fassifern Guardian and Tribune reported that a crayfish farmer in Tarome had found fire ants on his property on 5th February. Tarome, in the Scenic Rim Region of south-east Queensland, is about an hour south of Brisbane and an hour inland from the Gold Coast. Tarome is located at the foot of the Great Dividing Range and is a few kilometres from the Main Range National Park. The Fassifern Guardian and Tribune described the spread of fire ants into Tarome a ‘worst nightmare scenario.’
The select group Biosecurity Queensland chose to alert was likely residents of the Scenic Rim Region. But why was Biosecurity Queensland so secretive about this new fire ant infestation? Because it was inevitable.
Tarome borders Moorang and Frazerview in the Scenic Rim Region and Townson in the Lockyer Valley which are already infested with fire ants. Biosecurity Queensland said the crayfish farm was only 16 kilometres from the nearest known nest. Young fire ant queens can fly 5km on their own to find a nesting site and up to 30km with the wind behind them.
Biosecurity Queensland could not use any of the chemicals it usually uses to treat single nests on the crayfish farm because they are toxic to fish and invertebrate aquatic life.
The best Biosecurity Queensland could do was to dig up the nest, hoping to capture the queen, then pour boiling water down it. Research shows the fire ant queen can be anywhere in a nest, not necessarily close to the surface, and workers respond to their nest being disturbed by relocating the queen metres away from the disturbance along lateral tunnels. There is a good chance the nest has relocated.
Biosecurity Queensland used sniffer dogs to assess the property for other fire ant nests and found none. Biosecurity Queensland has never assessed the efficacy of the dogs to know how many times they miss nests. CSIRO’s 2020 review of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program said a property that appeared to be fire ant free one day could become infested the next by a young airborne fire ant queen seeking a nesting site.
Fire ants are now out of control in South East Queensland. An infestation that covered around 40,000ha in 2001 now covers around 650,000ha and continues to spread. Biosecurity Queensland continues to claim its program is ‘world class’ and covers up any evidence to the contrary.
Time for a Royal Commission to hold every Queensland Minister for Agriculture and every chair of the program’s steering committee since 2001 to account for wasting over $600m public money and creating a public risk of an out-of-control fire ant infestation – one of the world’s worst invasive species.
1st March 2021