Termite battle heats up as pests threaten historic neighborhoods

Task force working to educate, protect look of Jacksonville's oldest areas

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A local group's battle against some especially aggressive termites that are threatening to terrorize some of Jacksonville’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods is heating up.

A task force of researchers, experts and local leaders met Tuesday to discuss the termite problem and formulate a solution.

The goal of the task force is to protect areas throughout the city, including Riverside, which is considered ground zero for the Formosan termites that have the potential to change the face of the historic neighborhood.

“If the termites do damage in those trees, and we do have to remove them, then we could change the way Jacksonville looks,” said Erin Harlow, a horticulturist with a University of Florida agricultural institute extension based in Jacksonville.

The termite invasion along some of Riverside’s most well-preserved streets threatens to leave its mark.

“These houses have a lot of wood in them, and they are all pretty much the same age on this street,” said Sylvia Steen, who has lived in the same house in Riverside for 40 years.

She said she's thinking about having someone inspect her entire home.

“We're talking about these large trees and losing, really, what Jacksonville looks like. We all love our big trees. That's kind of what we’re known for,” Harlow said.

Harlow is at the forefront of the fight against the Formosan termites in Jacksonville. She led Tuesday's group, making sure people throughout the community are educated.

Just last year, the termite infestation led to the demolition of the historic Woman’s Club of Jacksonville on Riverside Avenue.

The problem has now spread to other areas, including the beaches, and the effort in Duval County to combat the termites is the first of its kind in the United States.

Volunteers and contributions have poured in, with everyone hoping to stop the problem before it gets worse. Harlow said doing that is really simple.

Residents can set traps and make sure wood that’s touching their home isn’t touching the ground.
It’s also a good idea to get homes and trees inspected.

The group's next step is to get the city to approve a contract that would allow them to move forward with a massive treatment plan.