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O.C. Hopes Not to Give Fire Ants a Breather

State funding for the battle has lapsed, but supervisors vote to cover costs until Dec. 8. The board will also examine private alternatives.

October 29, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Orange County will continue its successful fight against an infestation of stinging red imported fire ants until Dec. 8 while demanding that the state restore funding for the effort.

Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to pick up the costs while examining other ways of paying for the program, including help from nurseries.

The California Department of Agriculture had funded the program since 2000 but cut off the money Oct. 19 because of the state's budget crisis.

"This is a temporary fix," board Chairman Tom Wilson said. "The state should be responsible for this."

A dozen speakers urged the board to preserve the program. Abandoning it would guarantee a full-scale infestation, they said. There are 26,139 fire-ant mounds around the county, most in south Orange County.

Supervisors Jim Silva and Chris Norby said the pest might best be dealt with by individual property owners, as currently happens with termite and cockroach infestations.

But exterminator Paul Webb, who sat on the county board that devised the eradication program, said the fire ant is too pervasive and dangerous to be left to chance.

"They can do so much more damage" than other insect pests, he said. "The ant should be treated the same way as a disease."

Without emergency funding, the four-year effort to eliminate the ants probably would shut down, a spokesman for the Orange County Vector Control District said. Fire ants already have infested Florida and Texas.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange), who pushed as a supervisor for state funding to kill the ants, has continued to argue for state payments. He and state Sen. Richard Ackerman (R-Irvine) have urged state officials to reconsider.

The fire ants are known for fierce bites that leave painful, itchy welts.

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