The infestation of venomous red imported fire ants recently discovered across a 30-mile swath of Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties is probably too well-established to eradicate and will cost millions of dollars to manage, Orange County officials said Tuesday.
The presence of more than a dozen mounds of the aggressive ants in Orange County parks, median strips and fields has convinced experts that there is unlikely to be a quick solution.
Without decisive action, officials fear the ant infestation could seriously damage the state's nursery industry.
In Texas, one of 11 states widely infested by the ants, government, private industry and homeowners spend an estimated $300 million a year battling the persistent pests.
"At the least, nurseries will have to spend money in the short term to keep this pest out of their stocks. At the worst, this could affect the reputation of California nurseries, which is among the best in the world," said Cato Fiksdal, Los Angeles County's agricultural commissioner, watching with his counterparts from San Bernardino and Orange counties, as entomologists dug at ant mounds in an Orange County subdivision.
Since Oct. 9, when more than 40 mounds containing more than 300,000 ants each were discovered in a field and adjacent park in Orange County, state officials have discovered hundreds of mounds in residential areas of the county. Mounds have also been found in a residential area of El Monte, and in a nursery in the Riverside County city of Indio.