The latest report on the red imported fire ant program suggests that a lack of funding may render the eradication target unachievable.
The national fire ant program is unlikely to eradicate fire ants under the current funding levels. This was the clear message from Dr Wendy Craik, chair of the steering committee for the national fire ant program. With the program coming under fire from an increasing number of quarters, it is a worrying admission.
The national fire ant program, armed with a $441 million budget, has an objective to eliminate the red imported fire ant from southeast Queensland by 2027. However, as the fire ant infestation has continued to spread, Dr Craik has indicated they will not meet the 2027 target without an increase in funding and resources.
Andrew Cox, Chief Executive of the Invasive Species Council has expressed his concern. Attempting to achieve eradication was always going to be a challenge, but in an interview on ABC Radio Mr Cox said he was worried that politics and bureaucracy could prevent the program from reaching its goal. For the best chance of success he suggested that control of the program needed to be moved outside of the state of federal governments to give it greater independence. He also emphasised that it needed increased power and less bureaucracy to get things done quickly.
Although too late now, the opinion shared by several experts, including Dr Danny Spring from Melbourne University, is that the program didn’t go hard enough over a wide enough area earlier in the program. Instead, they tried to use a more targeted approach treating a smaller area, primarily to save money. Dr Spring, a bioeconomics expert, has consulted on the fire ant program for over 15 years and believes one of the main problems is actually defining the boundary of the infestation. Movement of material outside the fire ant zone is also an issue.
The federal agriculture minister David Littleproud told ABC Radio Brisbane, “I am so concerned that we will see these [fire ants] spread across not just the rest of southern Queensland, but in fact the southern states.”
Although Mark Furner, the state agriculture minister, believes the program is still on track, it appears that Dr Craik does not share the same level of confidence unless the program sees an increase in funding. Although she was keen to point out that without the program fire ants could have already spread from Bowen to Canberra.
The findings of an independent review of the program by former Inspector-General of Biosecurity, Helen Scott-Orr, are currently being considered before determining what changes to make to the program.