Scenic Rim fire ant baiters cause chaos for animals

HORSE vs HELICOPTER: Jon Krause with Alison Hall-Perrin and Queensland Horse Industry Council president Peter Toft. Photo: Supplied
HORSE vs HELICOPTER: Jon Krause with Alison Hall-Perrin and Queensland Horse Industry Council president Peter Toft. Photo: Supplied

Property owners near Harrisville have expressed anger about the aerial fire ant eradication program using choppers to drop baits and startling animals, some of whom had injured themselves trying to escape the noise.

Concerned residents attended a meeting on November 24 at the Harrisville Community Hall with Jon Krause and a Department of Agriculture and Fisheries biosecurity official.

Alison Hall-Perrin from Coleychelle Farm and Kennallywood Stud at Mutdapilly said the community was extemely grateful to Mr Krause for his support in the matter and for attending the meeting the day before the election.

She said the issue was of great concern to a community that boasted high quality horse breeders, cattle farms, Clydesdales and one of the largest camel dairies in the world and while they were not trying to stop fire ant baiting they were very concerned about the method implemented.

“The horse numbers are huge in this area, we have mares foaling and babies on the ground so distressed by the low-flying choppers,” she said.

“We’ve seen a variety of animals extremely injured and it’s just incomprehensible that they are saying 30 feet (9.14 metres) to 16 metres is the premium level for baiting.

“Animals have been critically injured in Coleyville Valley where there are 14 businesses that derive income from the land”

Vet Dr Ian Wilbraham from Peak Crossing Veterinary Services said he had seen a number of injured animals as a result of the helicopter.

“Horses and occasionally cattle have run into fences and become injured, mostly lacerations that required stitches but there have also been more serious injuries,” he said.

“One horse was so badly injured it had to be euthanised.

“I wouldn’t call it an epidemic, it’s only a small number of animals but it’s a legitimate concern for people who have horses.”

Dr Wilbraham said the problem was likely to be due to a combination of the height the choppers flew over the land and the constant swooping, turning and banking that created a significant disturbance.

National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program director Geoff Kent said program representatives were pleased with the interest shown by the community, with approximately 30 landowners and stakeholders present.

He said attendees had the opportunity to ask how the eradication program works, with the discussion covering a range of topics including:

  • The use of helicopters in the delivery of bait treatment, the impact of aerial activities on livestock, how the bait works, its efficacy and safety
  • The program’s operational processes and time frames
  • The community’s desire to be consulted further about the management of fire ants in their area.

“The program will be taking on board points from the discussion that will improve service delivery, such as increasing communication and consultation with the community,” he said.

“We thank everyone who attended the meeting and for their time to discuss how to ensure the program is effective in their area.

“Fire ants are one of the world's most invasive species.

“If they establish in Queensland, they have the potential to devastate our state’s economy, environment and our way of life.”

Mr Kent said  the 2017-2018 treatment season was currently underway in southeast Queensland in the Lockyer Valley, Somerset, Scenic Rim and Ipswich regions.

He said three rounds of bait treatment would be applied between October and June for two consecutive years in this region to eradicate fire ants.

“The method of bait distribution varies depending on the size of each property and accessibility.

Officers use hand held spreaders on residential blocks and quad bikes / ATVs continue to be used on larger properties,” he said.

“Acreage properties are targeted for aerial treatment, as helicopters can deliver broad scale treatment over large areas in a time and cost efficient manner.

“The treatments are carried out by a professional helicopter company who has been working with the program since it started in 2001.

“Prior to each treatment round, officers are in contact with acreage property landowners to ensure there is minimal disruption to livestock while fire ant treatment is conducted by helicopter.

Mr Kent said during treatment, pilots would continually observe on ground behaviour of livestock and should any issues arise, the helicopter would leave the area.

“On the ground staff will also be observing for any issues,” he said.