Editor’s note: Dr. D. D. Faye, entomologist/agronomist, owner and operator of CommonSense Pest Management, which services Austin, Texas and surrounding areas, submitted the following first-hand account of how the recent Texas wildfires might impact pest control
As everyone knows, everything is big in Texas. Austin and surrounding has experienced a very important fire, especially in the northwestern area Steiner Ranch area and the eastern county of Bastrop. In Bastrop county alone, the wildfire that just engulfed more than 1,550 homes in 34,000 acres in Bastrop just confirmed the saying (source Austin KXAN TV, 9/16/2011). According to the same source, the 2010 U.S. Census survey reported about 22,018 households in Bastrop County that is 6% of the homes in the county have been destroyed. I am one of the lucky evacuees returning to a safe home after days away.
Amidst of the apocalyptic situation, there is also the big good heart of the Texans and the nation by and large whose community response has made a difference in appeasing the unfortunate ones who lost not only houses, but pets, livestock and sentimental values.
Emergency response measures have been put into action. Among them, evacuation, anti looting security, locating hotels and temporary shelters, feeding pets and impound livestock, boiling drinking water, debris removal, etc. As an entomologist and environmentalist, I feel the need to fill the void by trying to inform about the undesirable post pyrotechnic period through an ecological approach in possible pest status forecast.
In IPM, pest status takes place when the environmental balance is impaired either through human activity or through natural disaster hindering the carrying capacity of a given ecosystem. Carrying capacity is the maximum vital load an ecosystem can bear. When this very important parameter is exceeded, unfavorable conditions are the result: excessive competition for scarce or depleting resource let it be habitat, food, water or adequate temperature for optimal growth. Increased aggressive pest activity becomes prevalent. This is illustrated by the obvious and bold visit of the dislodged small and large living organisms ranging from arthropods (insects, scorpions, flies) to vertebrates such as rodents, predators like coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums, snakes, displaced domestic cats and dogs, among others).
A review or explanation of a stepwise approach to successive presence will help in explaining the pest status we should expect after the fire in Bastrop, and elsewhere in general.
As wildfire could be a moderating factor in the environment: purification, breaking dormancy, recreation of habitat, wildfire also induces temporary unbalance. Dead organisms will foster colonization by carrion insects like sarcophagid flies, ground beetles, dermestids, and others. The relative excessive amount of food source in this condition will therefore promote a population explosion of the r-strategy (also known as r-selected, compared to K-strategy) species with high fecundity, small body size, including small mammals such as rodents, short generation time, wide dispersal organisms including weeds, etc. When in proximity to the saved homes, these flies may be found in or around houses for a while. The destroyed habitats force the field mice, roof rats and Norwegian rats to become more commensal (sharing our table). As this rodent migration is directed to the more habitat favorable houses luckily saved, rodent predators such as snakes will follow the pace to the source of food. Large wildlife such coyotes, raccoons, opossums and foxes and deer will also translocate in relatively more comfortable areas, our homes and vicinity. With this environmental ramification, and intrinsic relationship, the pest management industry could expect a busier winter with survival driven organisms in and around domestic areas. I also foresee less overwintering pest population which could result in a relatively less spring season pest emergence such the wood destroying insect complex: termites, carpenter ants and wood destroying beetles that may be either destroyed in the fire or removed from their woody habitat during the post fire cleaning and remediation.
While business could be generated from this unfortunate situation, our industry should also play a helping role in providing peace of mind and leaning shoulders to victim customers and others in the community: initiate courtesy call to customers to just check on them, provide complimentary services, be there, ready and available just as resource to the needy. This social act of kindness could either lead to future business or to simple and sincere sense of purpose in time of need.