Wood Mulch and Termites
Perhaps you read it - that frightening email from a friend of yours who passed it along to everyone on his or her distribution list, after receiving it himself from another person. That's how so many wild stories are distributed today, via the electronic wonder of email and the internet, and the simple process of just pushing a few buttons to send information to dozens of people.
Here is the message you may have seen, and one that generated a great deal of fear among people who then wondered if it was true.
"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 Lowe's 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 where the Formosan Termite has gotten a stronghold 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. "
I have become very suspicious of scary-scenario emails that are mass-sent and end up in my In-box. Far too many times the facts are embellished or outright fabricated, and the story has little or no truth to it. My red flag also rears up whenever specific corporations are named in the story, as two of the largest retail stores were in this situation. I am just cynical enough to feel that it could have begun with one person's vendetta against that corporation. In the case of this story, on termite-infested wood mulch, there actually is a bit of truth. What is accurate is that the Formosan Termite is a highly destructive termite species, and that it is well established in Louisiana, particularly around New Orleans. It is also true that this termite often infests living trees, although to state that "most" of the trees blown down in the hurricane were infested is to take liberties with known facts. It also is a stretch to state that there is "no good control" for this termite, for the professional pest management industry has been having increasing success in protecting our homes from this termite species.
What Is The Truth?
First, almost immediately after the devastating hurricanes in 2005 the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry imposed a quarantine on wood products and wood mulch, and at the time of writing this article all wood-based debris from affected parishes in Louisiana was been sent to landfills within the state. No wood mulch was being packaged and sent out of the state, much less being sold as cheap product opportunities through the major landscape supply outlets. Here is a specific statement from this agency:
"All woody debris in the quarantined areas is going to an approved landfill within the designated quarantine area. There are a multitude of government (state and federal) agencies that are looking at this debris every day as it is deposited into these landfills. The contractors mulching and hauling the debris know the regulations and are abiding by them according to the quarantine requirements. If there is anyone with knowledge of debris moving out of a quarantine area, they should contact our 24-hour hotline at 225-925-3763."
Louisiana State University has also reinforced this message, and has added that wood products that are being used in the rebuilding of homes must be fumigated for termites prior to their use, and that mulch that may be packaged for future sale and shipment must also be fumigated and carefully inspected by government authorities prior to its movement. Entomologists in general have expressed skepticism over the ability of termites even to survive the shredding and mulching processes involved in creating the garden product. Texas, since it is located adjacent to Louisiana, has for many years had quarantine and inspection requirements for any and all wood materials entering their state from Louisiana, and these requirements make it even more unlikely that some new threat could succeed in spreading the termites.
While it may be titillating to believe the frightening things we are bombarded with via email, the results of hoaxes such as this one can be economically damaging to corporations and the people who work for them. It would be useful to question such information and seek a reliable resource for their opinion before passing the hoax along to others. For insect and other pest information your local university Cooperative Extension Services are excellent, as are many pest control companies who also hope to stay abreast of what is factual and what is not. We have a tremendous number of worries in our lives, but termites sneaking out of New Orleans does not appear to be one of them.