Mayor furious at decision to scale back fire ant program

UPDATE: Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones has voiced his bitter disappointment at the State Government's decision to scale back the fire ant program, especially as the ants were recently found on prime agricultural land in Forest Hill.

"As mayor, I will do whatever it takes to fight for the reinstatement of funding to the program and I expect nothing less from local MP Ian Rickuss," Cr Jones said.

"Fire ants are a serious environmental and agricultural problem causing damage to seeds, seedlings and fruit and have been known to cause the deaths of newborn and young livestock and in some cases have rendered animals blind.

"Need I remind Mr Rickuss that the agriculture industry alone in the Lockyer Valley is worth in excess of $300 million a year and to even contemplate reducing funding to the eradication program is ridiculous, let alone actually doing it.

"By slashing millions of dollars in funding and axing 45 positions in the fire ant program, the State Government is playing Russian roulette with the Lockyer Valley.

Cr Jones said news reports had confirmed that the Lockyer Valley was a focus area of the fire ant program.

"Given fire ants are attracted to disturbed soil such as farms and road works, I find it absolutely abhorrent that this vital program has been targeted for job reductions and budget cuts," Cr Jones said.

"I lobbied the previous government for six years to ensure more was being done to abolish fire ants when they were on the fringe of Brisbane and will lobby the current government to have funding reinstated to ensure fire ants are completely eradicated in the Lockyer Valley.

"I will not sit idly by and watch the region be destroyed by fire ants."

EARLIER: Biosecurity Queensland has placed the Lockyer Valley on fire ant alert, following the discovery of a nest at Forest Hill.

A leading fire ant expert told the Star the Lockyer Valley had become a high risk area and urged all property owners to be on the lookout for the pests.

Somerset councillor Jim Madden also urged residents in his council area to be vigilant.

Are authorities doing enough to stop the spread of fire ants?

This poll ended on 17 November 2012.

Yes - 1%

No - 98%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

The latest nest was identified by a Forest Hill landowner, who contacted Biosecurity Queensland immediately.

This is the ninth colony identified in the region in the past 15 months.

Biosecurity Queensland Control Centre director Neil O'Brien said the Lockyer Valley was now a high risk area.

"Our focus is that fire ants don't become established in the Lockyer Valley," Mr O'Brien said. "And to do that, we need help from the region.

"People need to get out there and have a look around their properties."

Director of Biosecurity Queensland Control Centre Neil O'Brien keeps a close eye on sample collection from the Forest Hill fire ant infestation.
Director of Biosecurity Queensland Control Centre Neil O'Brien keeps a close eye on sample collection from the Forest Hill fire ant infestation. Kerry O'Neill

Mr O'Brien said this nest was the third black soil infestation.

Mount Mort and Blacksoil had also recorded fire ants on farmland.

Mr O'Brien urged residents and farmers to be vigilant and to report any suspicious ant activity immediately.

"In this latest case, a vigilant landowner noticed the ant nest, knew something was different and rang us. This is the sort of response we need," Mr O'Brien said.

The Forest Hill fire ants may have flown into the region, as fire ants can fly up to 16km.

DNA tests on the single queen nest will establish its origins.

Member for Lockyer Ian Rickuss said $15 million in funding for fire ant eradication was assured under a national cost-sharing arrangement.

The Queensland Government had committed a further $1.9m over and above the cost sharing arrangements, to ensure the longterm fire ant fight continued, he said.

"I will be talking to appropriate Ministers to keep this funding going," Mr Rickuss said.

Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones questioned whether the State Government was doing enough, given fire ants had infiltrated some of Australia's best agricultural land.

"I am very concerned that fire ants have been found on prime agricultural land," Cr Jones said.

"And like all local land users, I call on Ian Rickuss to ensure that no stone is left unturned in eradicating this problem, before too much damage is done."

Contact Biosecurity Queensland on 132523.

Topics:  biosecurity queensland fire ant lockyer valley

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