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Road Law
Invasion of the fire ants

By Jeff McConnell & James Mennella
Attorneys at law


Even though this headline could be a good horror film title, this article is not a review of a bad 1970s B movie. You might wish it were, if you happen to run afoul of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), APHIS is responsible for the inspection, disposal, etc. of regulated articles and pests.

Recently, a trucker hauled some earthmoving equipment through the state of Tennessee and was stopped by an APHIS inspector. His experience in not knowing the ramifications and not complying with the quarantine measures established in regard to the imported fire ant can be a learning experience for others.

Q: What is the big deal about some ants?

A: These are the more invasive fire ants, not your run-of-the-mill black or red ants. The USDA has determined that certain areas of the country need to be quarantined to either contain and/or eradicate this particular ant species.

Q: Where are these quarantine areas, and what do they mean to me?

A: At the time of this writing, the following states have areas that are either statewide or limited to certain counties within the state: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

What APHIS is looking for are fire ant queens or colonies of fire ants, which may be in soil, in hay/straw that was stored on the ground, or in other plants/sod with roots and soil attached. If you are hauling used earthmoving equipment or nursery items from within the quarantined area to other non-quarantined states or counties, then you want to make sure that you follow the rules.

Q: How do you move regulated articles from quarantined areas?

A: With regard to the imported fire ant, the applicable rules can be found in Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations in section 301.81(7CFR301.81). Generally, in order to move regulated articles, a certificate, limited permit or compliance agreement must be obtained. You would likely see this with local nurseries or other businesses that grow or handle regulated items. However, one is not needed if the following is true of your load:

  • The article was moved into the area from an area that is not quarantined.
  • The point of origin is indicated on the waybill.
  • The article will be moved through the quarantined area without stopping (except for gas, traffic lights, etc.).

Q: If I haul earthmoving or construction equipment, what should I do to avoid a problem?

A: Whether you are hauling through or within a quarantined area, it is most important to make sure that the item is free of non-compacted soil by brushing, washing or blowing it with compressed air.

Even if you do this, remember that inspectors are authorized to stop and inspect any person or vehicle in interstate commerce they have probable cause to believe is moving a regulated article.

Q: What happens if I have an infestation?

A: The inspector may seize the item and quarantine it, destroy it, treat it or use some other remedial measure. We haven’t seen it yet, but there can also be a civil penalty issued as well as a revocation of a certificate, limited permit or compliance agreement. LL


Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134, call 405-242-2030,
fax 405-242-2040, or e-mail