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Friday, March 03, 2006

Formosan Termite in Louisiana Mulch – An Urban Legend?

I received an e-mail today entitled Mulch Alert.

Here’s what the e-mail said:

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 Home Depot and Lowes 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 were the Formosan Termites has gotten a strong hold 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 that own homes to avoid cheap mulch and know were it came from.
Hopefully this info will help avoid you avoid expensive termite repairs.

The e-mail made sense to me, but so have a lot of other forwarded e-mails. I decided to check it out so that I wouldn’t be a participant in the propagation of any urban legends.

What I have found out is that there is a really big problem with this ‘always hungry’ termite which was introduced into the United States after World War II, and that it is found mostly in the southern states.

Louisiana in particular has a significant termite problem with damage costs in the millions of dollars annually. The state of Louisiana subsequently recognized the potential spread of this pest due to the damage caused by hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Consequently, a quarantine was put into effect in October of 2005.

To try to prevent moving termites to other areas, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry on Oct. 3 imposed a quarantine for the Formosan subterranean termite in Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.

… the quarantine has three objectives – to prevent spreading the Formosan subterranean termite to locations not currently infested, to prevent infesting existing structures that are not currently infested and to prevent infesting new and reconstructed structures.

There are several bulletins and information sheets that have been published on the Louisiana State University Ag Center’s web pages. The quarantine is still in effect.

Yes, Formosan subterranean termites are found in the parishes affected by the hurricanes and will get in mulch. However, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) in Louisiana imposed a quarantine for the Formosan subterranean termite on October 3, 2005, in Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes (the parishes affected by the hurricanes).

The provisions of the quarantine are here.

They also have a fact sheet entitled, “Do not spread Formosan subterranean termites!”

This link is kind of like LSU’s Formosan subterranean termites home page.

If you want to find out whether something is an urban legend or not, Snopes.com is usually a good place to go.

The body of the e-mail that I had received was virtually duplicated on their page, and Snopes.com states that this e-mail’s status is false. The article also gives pertinent information as to how they have come to their conclusion.

However, although particular scenario described in the message quoted at the head of this page might be possible, it isn't likely because the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry imposed a quarantine on several parishes back in October 2005 specifically to prevent the accidental movement of Formosan subterranean termite to other areas.

…Entomologists we've contacted also generally have said they doubt that termites could survive the mulch shredding, packaging, and transportation (in shrink-wrapped bags that expose them to high temperatures with a limited air supply and limited moisture) process in the first place (and in any case, there are a number of mitigating factors that could halt the spread of Formosan subterranean termites transported to other areas, such as the fact that they are rarely found above 35° N latitude because the colder temperatures typical of higher latitudes prevent their eggs from hatching).

I’m thinking, “Okay, I read the stuff that they read and it all reads the same.”

So instead of leaving it at that, what did I have to go and do?

I had to do one more search on this thing and I came up with an article from Texas A&M’s Ag News dated March 3, 2006, that was entitled…

Take ‘Mulch’ Care When Spring Gardening

And what did this article have to say?

COLLEGE STATION – If wood mulch is being shipped into Texas from hurricane-ravaged areas of Louisiana – as a recent flurry of e-mails alleges – it is being done so illegally, said a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

…"TDA [Texas Department of Agriculture] inspectors in our road stations along the Texas border are keeping their eyes out for any quarantined articles and will turn back any shipments that do not meet our rigorous entry requirements,"

…[Dr. Roger] Gold recommended that consumers be wary of generic or unlabeled wood products – including railroad crossties – even though they appear to be a good deal. Care needs to be taken through inspections or treatment of these materials before they are placed around structures in Texas, he said.

"This may be a situation where it is better to look a gift horse in the mouth because of the cost of a poor decision for the average homeowner if these materials were infested with these wood-destroying insects," he said.

…any material moving illegally out of Louisiana needs to be reported to the pesticide division of that state's department of agriculture at (225) 925-3763.

Do you get this feeling that there is some sort of trust issue here?

Can you imagine why?

So is the e-mail entitled, “Mulch Alert”, an urban legend or is it a valid warning?

(Insert Jeopardy music ... *here*.)

I guess that I will have to disagree with Snopes.com on this one. Their assumption that the e-mail is false is wholly based upon moral ethics.


From what I have seen, concerning Louisiana’s political and local ethics…

as well as the ethical actions of their elected and appointed officials…

I think I’ll just forward that e-mail on.



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