Fire ants economic bite underestimated in government modelling: $2.5b per year in costs by 2035

by Minh Ngoc Le and Rod Campbell
(AAP Image/Supplied by Invasive Species Council)


New research by The Australia Institute finds the threat posed by fire ants has been significantly understated, identifying a compelling economic case for their eradication.

The species has the potential to become one of Australia’s worst invasive pests, wreaking havoc on agriculture, natural ecosystems and all Australians.

Australia Institute analysis has identified concerns that government-commissioned economic modelling has downplayed the risk fire ants pose, finding that even slight changes to the model’s assumptions elevate the case for eradication from marginal to compelling.

Key points:

  • Government-commissioned modelling assesses only a 15-year timeframe and ignores the $2.5 billion per year in damages that fire ants will cause beyond 2035.
  • Extending the government-commissioned analysis to a 20-year timeframe shows every dollar invested in eradication will bring between $3 and $9 in benefits.
  • These are conservative figures using very low estimates of social and environmental costs. For example, it assumes that avoiding fire ant infestation of bushland areas is worth less than ten cents per year to households.

“Eradicating fire ants is not only one of the best environmental policies governments could pursue, but also one of the best economic policies,” said Dr Minh Ngoc Le, Post Doctoral Fellow at the Australia Institute.

“Putting an economic value on environmental and household impacts of fire ants is very difficult, but it is clear that economic modelling done to date has not accurately assessed the damage this invasive species could cause and the opportunity of investing in their eradication.

“Governments should pursue the plans proposed by the National Fire Ant Eradication Program, including spending $300 million per year on eradication, because the future benefits will vastly outweigh current costs.”

“The original modelling was not publicly available for two years after it was completed. The fact this modelling does not tell the whole story highlights the need for greater transparency in the information governments use to make important decisions when managing invasive species,” said Reece Pianta, Advocacy Manager at the Invasive Species Council.

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