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What quarries need to know about fire ants

With fire ant eradication efforts continuing to evolve in Queensland, quarries need to be aware of their legal obligations around detection and control of this invasive pest

Industry body Cement Concrete & Aggregates Australia (CCAA) – which represents the heavy construction materials industry in Australia – has been putting the groundwork in to develop fire ant management guidance for quarries as the invasive species threatens to spread through human-assisted movement of materials that can carry fire ants.

First detected in Australia in 2001, the Red Imported Fire Ant is a South American agricultural pest that presents a major threat to our environment, economy and outdoor way of life. Fire ants can impact our native species, pose health risks to humans, pets and livestock, and could have a significant economic impact on agricultural and lifestyle industries.

Fire ants have the potential to cost Australia up to $2 billion per year, every year. Currently, an incursion is being treated in Queensland, with fire ant biosecurity zones covering much of the south east corner. These zones are reviewed and, if necessary, updated monthly.

An Emergency Order is also in place affecting the movement of earthmoving equipment and materials into NSW from Queensland, and the ACT recently announced restrictions on the transportation of equipment and mining and quarrying products from affected areas into the territory.

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The National Fire Ant Eradication Program (NFAEP) is Australia’s largest biosecurity eradication program, focusing on strengthening containment and compliance, and intensifying program-led and community treatment using a systematic, outside-in approach.

With fire ants easily transported in materials such as soil, gravel, mulch and quarry products, CCAA is taking an active role in representing the industry at a legislative level as well as assisting industry to understand its obligations.

“Fire ant management is a significant concern for quarry operators, especially for those with operations within the declared fire ant biosecurity zones and for those that transport quarry materials from these zones into New South Wales,” CCAA CEO Michael Kilgariff says.

“Any fire ant detections or suspected detections must be reported within 24 hours to the NFAEP by visiting fireants.org.au or calling 13 25 23.”

Guidance for the quarry industry

To assist quarry owners and operators in meeting requirements around fire ant control, CCAA is currently engaged with the NFAEP, Biosecurity Queensland and the NSW Department of Primary Industries to create a set of guidelines to assist businesses in stopping the spread of fire ants.

“Like other environmental and biosecurity issues, controlling the spread of fire ants requires focused effort,” Kilgariff says.

“This involves surveillance to identify fire ants, treatment to prevent fire ant nests establishing and spreading on a property, specific risk-mitigation measures for moving quarry material, and training staff and record keeping.”

He says that CCAA is working with governments to address regulatory and cost barriers and represent industry-specific requirements for quarrying businesses.

“CCAA is looking forward to continuing our work with the NFAEP to develop an industry management guide over the coming months that will help industry and the regulator to have a common understanding of what compliance and fire ant-safe practices look like,” Kilgariff says.

Holcim visit

As part of the work to develop industry protocols, the NFAEP recently joined CCAA for an educational visit to Holcim’s Beenleigh Quarry in Queensland.

CCAA state director for Queensland, Roger Buckley says: “The recent tour of the Holcim Beenleigh Quarry provides an excellent illustration of how CCAA and our members are working with the NFAEP in Queensland to minimise the risk of fire ants spreading via human-assisted movement.

“The quarry industry operates differently to other industries impacted by fire ants, such as nurseries and agriculture, with its just-in-time material delivery system, often steep slopes and specific material processing, overburden management and stockpiling procedures. Discussion on such specifics helps industry and the regulator to have a common understanding of what compliance looks like.

“The site visit helped officials better understand how quarries operate so guidelines and upcoming updates to the biosecurity regulations can include workable measures for our industry.

“There is nothing quite as valuable as having representatives from the NFAEP visit and understand our member operations firsthand, to see what is already being done, as well as what may be practical in the future.”

Remain vigilant

Those who move materials, such as quarry and soil products, within the fire ant biosecurity zones are legally obligated to check for fire ants before doing so, as well as employing fire ant-safe practices when moving or disposing of organic materials.

“It is important for quarry operators to keep an eye on these zones, especially if your quarry is currently just outside the zones, to see if the zone border has expanded recently to include your site. If that is the case, then you need to ensure your work practices meet the general biosecurity obligation,” Kilgariff says.

All individuals and businesses have a legal obligation under the Biosecurity Act 2014 to take all reasonable steps to stop the spread of fire ants. Visit the National Fire Ant Eradication Program’s website at www.fireants.org.au for more information and current fire ant biosecurity zone boundaries. If you are planning on moving materials sourced from within the zones, check out the Fire ant compliance tool at www.fireants.org.au/FACT

 

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