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Formosan Termites in Mulch Warning

Summary:
Email forward warns recipients that cheap mulch currently being distributed and sold across the United States originated from debris left by the New Orleans hurricanes and may contain Formosan Termites (Full commentary below.)



Status:
False

Example:(Submitted March 2006)
Subject: Mulch Warning

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 Termite 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.




Commentary:
This email forward warns recipients to be wary of buying cheap garden mulch because it could have been made from debris left over from Hurricanes Katrina and might therefore be contaminated with Formosan termites. The message implies that the widespread distribution of the infested mulch is spreading Formosan termites to areas of the United States that were previously free of the pests.

It is true that Formosan subterranean termites can be found in the New Orleans region of the United States. It is also true that the termites can get into cellulose debris such as that resulting from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita and that such debris could possibly be turned into garden mulch.

However, it is untrue that mulch contaminated with Formosan Termites is being sold or widely distributed across the United States. In October 2005 the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) imposed a quarantine on the Formosan subterranean termite, which prohibited the movement of untreated wood or cellulose material from the parishes affected by the hurricanes.

According to information published on the LSU AgCenter website, one of the provisions of the LDAF quarantine sates that:
"Movement of wood or cellulose material is prohibited unless either (1) it is fumigated or treated for Formosan subterranean termites and is approved for movement by the commissioner or his designee(s) or (2) written authorization is given by the commissioner or his designee(s) for the movement of untreated wood or cellulose material from the quarantined parishes.
Thus the claim in the email that Louisiana "is trying to get rid of tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will come and haul it away" is clearly nonsense. The State is quite unlikely to blatantly violate its own quarantine by distributing untreated mulch material. .

Moreover, the LDAF has issued the following press release debunking the rumor:
Mulch Rumors Untrue

March 3, 2006

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

That is the message Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom is stressing to the public as an email rumor about Formosan termite-infested mulch is circling the globe.

The email warns consumers not to purchase “cheap” wood mulch at major home improvement chains because it may be infested with Formosan termites.

"The email is not accurate and doesn’t even mention the quarantines this department put in place last fall to keep Formosan termites from spreading," Odom said. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry issued quarantines following the hurricanes for woody debris in Cameron, Calcasieu, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes. Woody debris cannot be moved out of these areas without first submitting a plan for treatment to the department.

"I’ve had my people out looking into these claims to make sure there are no violations of the quarantine. I’ve also had our invasive pest expert contact the stores mentioned in the email and we’ve yet to find any validity to the claims in the email," Odom said.

"In my opinion, someone is using the Internet to cause hysteria about a problem that doesn’t really exist. If there are people out there who know about someone violating the quarantines, then they need to report it to us. We’ll shut the culprits down real quick but it has to be reported," Odom said. "I think the quarantines are doing the job, though. We’ve worked with the debris contractors, the Corps of Engineers and FEMA to handle the debris and quarantines."

An official with the LSU AgCenter’s Cooperative Extension Service said their offices have been receiving calls non-stop about information contained in the emails.

"Our termite specialists are getting inundated with calls and e-mails," said Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor and director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. "We have posted new information on our Web site. We hope people will continue to use this as a resource for accurate information."

To report a quarantine violation, call (225) 925-3763. The Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Web site, www.ldaf.state.la.us, and the LSU AgCenter’s Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com, contain information about the quarantines, Formosan termites and debris disposal.

Formosan termites represent a significant threat that is taken very seriously by relevant authorities in the United States. The Formosan termite is a voracious pest and every effort is being made to curb its spread, including the aforementioned LDAF quarantine and other guidelines relating to hurricane debris. Thus, while it might be possible that minor violations of the quarantine have occurred, it seems extremely unlikely that termite-infested material from the affected areas is being distributed in large quantities and sold in reputable outlets across the United States.

Therefore, the claims in this "warning" can be considered groundless and the message should not be forwarded.

References:
Efforts under way to prevent spread of Formosan subterranean termites
LDAF press release: Mulch Rumors Untrue
Quarantine on wood, cellulose material after hurricanes Katrina and Rita
LSU AgCenter Formosan Subterranean Termites Portal
Keep Formosan Subterranean Termites From Spreading After Hurricanes (.pdf file)
The Formosan Termite A Formidable Foe!
Formosan Subterranean Termite (UF/IFAS)

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen