Riverside resident heads Formosan Termite Task Force

Robin Lumb, of Riverside, a former City Councilman who is currently serving as Director of Policy in the Office of the Mayor, was appointed to head a task force grappling with the prevention and eradication of a particularly aggressive termite. The Resident interviewed Lumb for an in-depth look at what the task force is up against.

Q: Just how pervasive is the Formosan termite infestation? There are reports that Springfield, Riverside and San Marco have been identified as districts where Formosan termites have been detected. Are there other areas of the county that are affected? How did they come to be in Jacksonville?

A: First, let me say that until the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens applied for a permit to demolish the Woman’s Club, the subject of Formosan termites was on very few radar screens.  Fortunately, Mayor Lenny Curry reacted quickly and asked that we develop a workable strategy to deal with this invasive species of termite which lead to the creation of the Jacksonville Formosan Termite Task Force (JFTTF). As for how extensive the problem is, it’s hard to say how many areas of the county are affected at this time as the information we have is mostly anecdotal. However, there are reports of activity in the areas you’ve identified. Although they were first detected in Jacksonville in 2005, it’s a matter of speculation as to how they got here.  The most plausible theory, based on conversations I’ve had with subject matter experts, is that they arrived via infested shipments of firewood and landscaping timbers.

Q: Some have said the Woman’s Club did not necessarily need to be demolished while others maintain it was not salvageable. What are the actual facts in this situation? The question has also been asked whether the Cummer had a “termite bond” on the building.

A: The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission (JHPC) voted to grant the demolition permit based on extensive documentation submitted by officials with the Cummer Museum. The JHPC concluded, based on engineering and structural reports, that demolition was warranted in this particular case. As for the existence of any termite bond, that would be a question for the Cummer Museum to answer. (A word of caution: Although “termite bonds” are standard in the industry and can provide a certain level of protection for homeowners, to remain in force most bonds require an annual re-inspection and a renewal premium. In some cases, termite bonds specifically exclude Formosan termites from coverage. Homeowners should read the termite bond and any associated contract carefully to understand coverage limitations and any obligations they might have thereunder.)

Q: How many structures have been identified as having active infestations? What percentage of our tree canopy has also been infested? Is the City’s urban forester involved? What about other groups such as the JEA, Greenscape, etc.?

A: We have no way of knowing how many structures have been infested because reporting, at this time, is voluntary. So that we can identify the areas where activity is highest, one of the goals of the JFTTF is to begin mapping both known infestations and the annual swarming of Formosan termites that occurs during the months of May and June. As for infested trees, several trees along Riverside Avenue near Memorial Park and along Oak Street west of 5 Points have Formosan termites. The JFTTF will have the active participation of urban foresters from Public Works, the JEA and the Duval Agricultural Extension Office as well representatives from other local and state agencies. Our subject matter experts are drawn from the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Duval Agricultural Extension Office, the Florida Department of Agriculture and professional pest control companies. Organizations like Greenscape and Riverside Avondale Preservation, as well as a number of other local stakeholder groups, will be among the 30 to 40 Task Force members.

Q: We’ve heard it said prevention is a lot easier than eradication. Is that true and, if so, what is the best way to prevent the further destruction and spread of this particular termite species?

A: First, Formosan termites are not super termites. They can’t eat through plastic, concrete or brick. Formosan termites are more destructive than Eastern Subterranean Termites only because their colonies are significantly larger; sometimes 10 to 15 times larger than those of native subterranean termites. Active infestations can be effectively treated using conventional termiticides to treat the soil under and around a home or building and by installing bait stations along the perimeter. The bait stations are also considered highly effective for prevention.  That’s because the bait stations attract foraging worker termites, which then carry the poisoned bait back to the colony where it is passed along to other termites.

Q: Are any of the local tree companies or arborists equipped to treat trees infested with Formosan termites?

A: Generally speaking, tree companies and arborists are only involved in removing dead and dying trees. Only pest control companies licensed by the Florida Department of Agriculture can treat infested trees. Fortunately, there are a number of local pest control companies that have the necessary training and credentials to treat infested trees and many, if not most, with active infestations can be saved.

Q: What are the short- and long-term plans for dealing with Formosan termites?

A: To address the problem, the Curry administration has formed the Jacksonville Formosan Termite Task Force to leverage public and private resources in a coordinated campaign to systematically address the challenge of Formosan termites. Although the work of the Task Force is only just beginning, we believe we can significantly reduce the rate of infestation through outreach and education.

Q: What are the takeaways for residents in Jacksonville regarding Formosan termites?

A: The best advice is to have your home inspected by a pest control company licensed to treat termites through the application of termiticides and the installation of bait stations. Also, tenting and fumigation, which are used to treat dry-wood termite infestations, are rarely necessary to control subterranean termites. Subterranean termites require a source of water in order to establish and sustain their colonies, so be sure that there are no plumbing leaks or dripping water under or near your house. You should also repair any leaks in your roof or around windows and doors and routinely clean all rain gutters so that they drain properly.

Termite bond not available

The Resident reached out to Hope McMath, executive director at the Cummer Museum, regarding the issue of a termite bond on the Woman’s Club building.

“No one would ever issue a repair and replacement bond…on that building or any other on our campus,” said McMath. “To this day no one will issue such insurance due to age of buildings, size and location of campus, etc.”

McMath said the nonprofit does not meet the criteria for a bondable property, when it comes to repair and replacement, but does have a treatment bond for the campus.

“According to the records there were treatments and repairs done at the time the building was purchased by the Museum for dry wood termites, but there was not any kind of bond on the building at that time,” she said. “There were regular inspections and treatments along the way, but no activity detected during those years really anywhere on the campus.” 

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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