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Archive for Thursday, March 9, 2006

Concerns about mulch from Katrina areas not cause for alarm

March 9, 2006

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With the cleanup of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast still in full swing and the beginning of another season less than 100 days away, a recent buzz on the Internet is raising a lot of questions about what is happening with all of the debris being disposed. Tales of contaminated mulch coming north in an effort to make cheap money have gardeners all across the Midwest up in arms.

For example, read this e-mail notice:

"If you use mulch around your house, be very careful about buying mulch this year. After the hurricane in New Orleans, many trees were blown over. These trees were then turned into mulch, and the state is trying to get rid of tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will come and haul it away. So it will be showing up in chain stores at dirt-cheap prices with one huge problem: Formosan termites will be the bonus in many of those bags. New Orleans is one of the few areas in the country where Formosan termites have gotten a stronghold, and most of the trees blown down were already badly infested with those termites. Now we may have the worst case of transporting a problem to all parts of the country that we have ever had. These termites can eat a house in no time at all, and we have no good control against them, so tell your friends who own homes to avoid cheap mulch and know where it came from."

The Formosan termite is a termite that forms larger colonies than our native termites, eats much more wood and is able to survive without ground contact if it has a water source. It has long been considered a problem in southern Louisiana. However, the chance of bringing this highly destructive pest to our community is little to none. Here is why: Woody debris from areas infested with the Formosan termite in Louisiana and Texas cannot be legally sold. The following is from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry:

"The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Office of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, has quarantines in place in the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita affected parishes of Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington. All woody debris in the quarantined areas is going to an approved landfill within the designated quarantine area. There are a multitude of government (state and federal) agencies that are looking at this debris every day as it is deposited into these landfills. The contractors mulching and hauling the debris know the regulations and are abiding by them according to the quarantine requirements. If there is anyone with knowledge of debris moving out of a quarantine area, they should contact our 24-hour hot line at (225) 925-3763. These are serious allegations and will be taken seriously." - Matthew Keppinger, assistant commissioner, Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry

Likewise, entomologist all across the Midwest agree that Formosan termites are a tropical species that does not do well above a latitude of 33.5 degrees - well south of Kansas. And it takes approximately eight years for a Formosan colony to complete a generation cycle from the pairing of the primary reproductives to the first appearance of alates in the colony. Our winter chill would knock them out the first year. Finally, if you consider the process wood goes through to become mulch, chances are that any insect colony would be completely destroyed long before the mulch is bagged and shipped north.

Though the chances of Formosan termites making it to Kansas are low, it still would be advisable for consumers to remain alert when spreading mulch. If termites are spotted, a quick treatment with insecticide should take care of them.

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