Red imported fire ants have made it to far West Texas, and officials say it appears they are probably here to stay.

Dr. Chris Sansone, Texas AgriLife Extension Service entomologist at San Angelo, said the ant movement has prompted the Texas Department of Agriculture to expand its red imported fire ant quarantined area to include another 29 counties, many of which are in West Texas.

The counties are Archer, Baylor, Callahan, Clay, Coke, Coleman, Concho, Crane, Crockett, Fisher, Haskell, Howard, Irion, Lubbock, Martin, Mitchell, Nolan, Reagan, Runnels, Schleicher, Scurry, Shackelford, Starr, Terrell, Throckmorton, Upton, Ward, Wilbarger and Winkler counties.

Sansone quoted a Texas Department of Agriculture news alert saying the quarantine will slow the artificial spread of red imported fire ants through the movement of hay and nursery-floral commodities to fire ant-free areas.

“The quarantine impacts both in state and out-of-state movement,” Sansone said. “Quarantines are just one more tool that can be used to manage pests. Hay and nursery and other regulated products from the quarantined counties may only be moved to ant-free areas after USDA-approved-quarantine treatments.

“On hay, which will no doubt have the greatest impact on agricultural producers, Texas Department of Agricultural guidelines prohibit storing hay directly on the ground if it is to be shipped to a non-quarantined county.”

Sansone’s advice is that producers do not sell the bottom layer of stored hay. If producers are going to ship out of the quarantined counties to a non-quarantined (fire-ant free) county they need to contact a Texas Department of Agriculture inspector before shipping. The inspector will provide the producer with a certificate for a fire ant-free product.

The Texas Department of Agriculture alert (http://tinyurl.com/69po12) release said they will publish a proposed rule in the next few weeks which is identical to the emergency quarantine now in effect. At that time, the public will have a chance to comment on the proposed rule before the emergency quarantine becomes permanent. Quarantine questions should be directed to the Texas Department of Agriculture’s regional offices or to 1-800-TELL TDA.

Regulatory information for Texas counties is also available at: http://tinyurl.com/5qm55o. Federal information for nursery and other regulated stock can be found at http://tinyurl.com/5e3rkz. More information on managing red imported fire ants can be found at http://fireant.tamu.edu/management/.