Organizing Programs

Organizing a Community-wide Fire Ant Suppression Program

Fire ant management programs can be successful, but because they are usually implemented by individual landowners and managers, reinfestation from nearby untreated areas generally occurs. Many of the baits on the market today came from efforts to develop products suitable for area-wide treatment programs and are best suited for large-scale use.

In Texas, two homeowner associations in San Antonio (Jade Oaks and Countryside) and Austin (Mt. Bonnell and Apache Oaks) conducted pilot projects from 1998 through 1999 and had participation rates of 89 to 98 percent. Using periodic volunteer- or professionally-applied treatments, imported fire ant populations were reduced by an average of 91% while native and competitor ant species numbers increased from an average of 6.3 to 9.5% per species. Participants realized a 84% reduction in the amount of money spent on treatments after initiating the program (from $35.82 to $ 5.86 per property year) and used less insecticide. Surveys documented a reduction in fire ant problems and an increase in residents’ knowledge about fire ants.

Despite great public concern, neither the state nor federal government is currently planning on funding any large-scale fire ant treatment programs, although some efforts to treat infestations have recently occurred in some California counties. It is up to local organizations to decide on the best IPM strategy for a particular situation. With the help of experts in the field and county Extension agents and Farm Advisors, any group can organize an effective fire ant suppression program.

The Two-Step Method (Program 1) for Home Lawns and Other Ornamental Turf Areas is often the method best suited for community-wide treatment. Homeowners and land managers may still need to treat a few mounds (step 2) between large-scale bait treatments, but they will need to treat far fewer than if no bait had been applied. In other areas, where ant surveys have documented that there are few imported fire ants and many competitor ant species, Program 2, or program combinations, may be more suitable.

Matching the Program to Your Resources and Needs

Basic education is critical. If you treat and your neighbor does not, you will find your yard is quickly re-infested. If you educate your neighbors, you can coordinate your battle against the imported fire ant more effectively and efficiently. Developing leadership in some neighborhoods may be difficult, but is not an insurmountable problem. Many states have agencies or associations, such as Master Gardeners, neighborhood watch programs or a fire ant management program, that can help in organizing communities. There are many ways people can work together to conduct community-wide fire ant suppression programs.

Coordinating Neighborhood Treatment

Homeowners can coordinate treatment of their entire neighborhood each year, usually once in the fall and once in the spring. Each homeowner should receive instructions on:

  1. Appropriate fire ant bait products to purchase
  2. How to properly broadcast a bait
  3. Treatment date(s)

Each homeowner is expected to make his own applications or arrange for treatment on the designated treatment date(s). Contingency dates should be scheduled in case rain is forecast or the temperature is less than 65 or greater than 90 degrees F on the primary treatment date. Volunteers can be enlisted to treat common areas, vacant lots and yards of homeowners.

Working through Homeowner Associations

Homeowner associations might contract with a local commercial applicator to broadcast fire ant bait over the entire subdivision periodically, including common areas and medians. The contractor should be asked to evaluate the area and re-treat areas as needed.

Working through City and County Government

Aerial view of a sprawling neighborhood

Some states have legislation or other laws in place that could aid your community in organizing treatment programs (e.g., fire ant abatement legislation in Arkansas, or public health laws in many states). With enough citizen support, local governments can establish fire ant control programs that treat public areas and perhaps allow homeowners to have their properties treated for a fee. The municipal or county government could contract with a commercial pest control applicator. Advertising should encourage entire blocks or neighborhoods to sign up, because the larger the area treated, the longer lasting the control. Treatments would include annual broadcast applications of a fire ant bait, follow-up checks, and possibly individual mound treatments as needed. The fee paid by individual landowners could pay for the program.

Planning to Ensure Success

Determine treatment areas. Some localized areas, even within heavily infested regions, have little or no imported fire ant infestations. Surveys should be conducted to determine if the number of imported fire ant mounds is high enough to justify treatment or what type of treatment is necessary.

Respect individual differences. Sensitivity to fire ants and to the use of insecticides varies dramatically from person to person. Some individuals might not want to participate in a control program because they believe fire ants are not a problem and serve useful purposes or because they are opposed to using insecticides, natural or otherwise, on their property.

At the other extreme are people who want no fire ants on their property and don’t care about the methods used to achieve that goal. Participation in an area-wide program should be voluntary or decided upon through a democratic process.

Promote education and recognize limitations. The strengths and limitations of the program should be acknowledged. For instance, a broadcast bait will eliminate most (usually 90 to 95 percent) of the fire ant mounds in an area temporarily (6 to 18 months). It will not eradicate them permanently. The speed at which suppression will occur is rather slow. Periodic, coordinated re-application will be necessary to maintain control. Between broadcast treatments, some individual colonies may require individual mound treatment. Properties that border untreated areas such as agricultural lands, water edges, flood plains and wilderness will likely be reinfested unless the borders of these areas are treated to form a barrier or buffer zone.

Follow pesticide laws and regulations. In each state there is an agency that regulates the commercial application of pesticides (e.g., Tennessee Dept. of Agriculture). Although you can apply insecticides on your own property, you cannot treat other yards in the neighborhood for a fee without pesticide certification. State laws mandate that anyone applying insecticides for a fee be certified and under the supervision of a licensed operator. In some states, there are special regulations governing the use of pesticides to treat public school grounds.

Read and retain the insecticide product label. Those who use insecticides must keep the label with the product. Never purchase a large quantity of insecticide and repackage, divide or store it in a container without the label. Always follow the directions on the product label.

Take bids and review credentials. Before contracting with a commercial applicator company or private pest control operator, get several bids based on the specific services you require. These firms must be licensed by the appropriate state agency.