First Posted: 3/9/2009
State personnel will begin manning Interstate 77 today in an effort to keep unwanted invaders from moving in not terrorists or illegal aliens, but fire ants.
A two-day fire-ant blitz, as described by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, will be under way today and Wednesday at the Mount Airy weigh station at mile marker 103 of Interstate 77-North.
The inspections are planned from 9 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m. both days, depending on the weather and truck activity. They are aimed at curtailing the spread of the pest that already has a foothold in eastern sections of the state.
Inspectors with the departments Plant Protection unit will be targeting trucks hauling soil, sod, hay and straw, nursery plant material, logs or pulpwood with soil and earth-moving equipment.
Theyll get up in the trucks, Karlie Justus, a spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture, said Monday.
In addition to taking soil samples from affected vehicles, the inspectors will check permits and make sure the paperwork is correct, Justus said.
Those operating trucks without proper documentation could be rerouted during the inspection period or instructed to clean equipment such as bulldozers and dump trucks.
Similar fire-ant blitzes are scheduled in Asheville on March 24 and Hendersonville on March 25-26.
A lot of stuff passes through here, Justus said of the effort targeting traffic on major state highways for the ants possible presence.
She said the project is a proactive approach to keep the pest from spreading into non-regulated areas of the state. Right now, Surry County is a non-quarantined area, and we hope to keep it that way, the department representative added.
Weve had a lot of questions come in to the department about fire-ant prevention.
Imported fire ants first entered the United States through Alabama in 1919 from South America. They gradually have infiltrated areas of the Southeast since, showing up in North Carolina in the 1950s.
They were first identified in Brunswick County in 1957. Since their introduction, they have spread north to additional areas in the state. As the ants became established, they were recognized as an aggressive pest of farmlands, pastures, residential areas and wildlife.
Fire ants are especially troubling because they feed on almost any kind of plant or animal material, which has a major impact on all types of ground-nesting animals in addition to crops. Some species have been completely eliminated in areas where fire-ant colonies have thrived.
They destroy buds and developing fruits and have been proven to feed on the seeds of more than 100 species of native wildflowers and grasses.
Areas of eastern North Carolina have been under quarantine as a result.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.