A Spur-throated locust.
A Spur-throated locust.

War declared on locusts

NORTHERN Rivers Rural Fire Service community safety officer Superintendent Boyd Townsend will be out fighting locusts instead of fires over the next few months.

The cooler, wetter conditions have allowed fire-fighting resources to be deployed to country areas of Victoria and NSW to combat what is expected to be the biggest Australian locust plague in generations.

Supt Townsend spent last week in the NSW town of Dubbo with two pilots learning a few new tricks, along with 17 other RFS officers who have been called in to help.

“The RFS is providing 17 experienced fire observers and three air operations managers statewide,” he said.

“We'll be assisting the combat agencies flying light aircraft or helicopters to cover expansive areas out of Dubbo or Wagga Wagga.

“We'll be helping look for locust bands on the ground, which are very obvious from the air and appear as a large black wave.

“Landowners of large properties might not even be aware they are there, so our role is to identify where they are, how big the band is and relay the co-ordinates backto base, so they can make a ground assessment and then decide how they will treat that area.”

Never one to pass up anopportunity to learn new skills, Supt Townsend said it had been a fascinating week of training.

“We learnt about the loc-usts and how they breed and develop – there's potentially three breeding cycles in a season, so they'll be coming in waves,” he said. “We also spent a fair bit of time on safety aspects – learning the conditions, minimum altitudes and that sort of thing.”

Supt Townsend will cover three shifts of three days each between now and Christmas.

“There is a roster, so at no point in time will there be more than three from the RFS assisting,” he said.

“With a relatively quiet fire season so far, we have these skills to assist. As long as we're not fighting fires, we can help.”

Rain and cooler weather have slowed the development of billions of locusts, but the Australian Plague Locust Commission is bracing itself for intensified activity as the weather heats up in the coming weeks.

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