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DRYWOOD TERMITES – WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

The Queensland Government is inviting the public to decide the future control of West Indian drywood termites in the state.

Biosecurity Queensland is asking the timber industry, construction companies and homeowners to have a say on how a problem termite is managed in the state.

The West Indian drywood termite is a serious pest in structural timbers and is particularly prolific in Brisbane, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Townsville and Rockhampton.

It is considered the world’s most destructive drywood termite, and since the 1960s the State Government has paid for any infestations found in timber products or buildings to be treated.

It costs about $42,000 for the average three-bedroom home to be treated, and the annual program costs taxpayers about $750,000 a year.

But with the implementation of the new Biosecurity Act 2014 in July, chief plant health manager Mike Ashton said the Government wanted to reassess how it managed the pest.

Options being considered:

  • Government organises treatment, with a phase-in of property owner contributions
  • Property owners organise and pay for treatments
  • Government organises treatment, with owner co- contribution of set costs
  • Government continues to organise and pay for all surveillance and treatment.

“The Biosecurity Act 2014 contains a core principle around shared responsibility for biosecurity, and so we’re undertaking a consultation process around how we manage the pest under the new act.

“It’s about where we find infestations of West Indian drywood termite, and who pays the cost of treating the structure or the timber object to remove the infestation.”

Unlike the common subterranean termite, which if discovered in structures is the responsibility of property owners to eradicate, the drywood termite lives out its entire life inside the timber. It makes it particularly difficult to identify. Its frass/pellets (main picture above) are one of the few indicators of its presence.

“They can complete their life cycle within the timber. They don’t need access to the ground like subterranean termites do,” Mr Ashton said. “That means that detection of them can be more difficult because they spend their whole life cycle within the structural timbers. By the time you do detect infestations they can be quite significant.

“Surveillance activities are obviously something that really has to be done by government. It can’t be done by private individuals and so we have to balance the resources that we put into treatment with the resources that we put into surveillance.

“One of the things that a co-contribution or a contribution by affected property owners in the treatment of this pest will do is it will allow us to use our limited resources to put towards greater surveillance for the pest.

“And also to apply those resources to research and development activities, where we can look at both improved surveillance techniques and improved ways of treating the pest when we do find it.”

The surveillance and treatment program has so far confined the pest to a handful of sites around Queensland, but Mr Ashton said depending on where and when it was found, it could cause significant damage.

Mr Ashton said the consultation would also look at issues such as whether forcing people to pay for the treatment could reduce reporting rates.

“That’s a possibility and that’s obviously something that we’ll be looking at as part of this consultation process,” he said.

The consultation on the future control of West Indian drywood termites in Queensland closed on February 29. However, for more information visit the Queensland Government website or call the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on 13 25 23.

More drywood termite information.

Adapted from: ABC Rural article by Kallee Buchanan

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