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When the ants come marching in.

Dear Earth Talk: In renovating a vacation cabin, I discovered carpenter ants working their way through the walls. Is there any way to responsibly get rid of the pests without using noxious chemicals that could potentially harm my family?--Curran Clark, Lummi Island, WA

Carpenter ants may seem small and look harmless, but they can do serious damage to anything wooden in your home--not only furniture but also the framing and walls that hold up the house. Ants hollow out (mostly) moist or rotten wood to build their nests and then use their new home as a base camp from which to forage for food and water in their nearby surroundings.

While many commercially available chemical pesticides will get rid of them, homeowners are increasingly steering away from such toxins proven to impact the human nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems. Perhaps the most economical and effective way to re move carpenter ants is by applying boric acid (also known as borax) to their nest sites and surroundings. This natural non-toxic element has a long history of use in exterminating brazen populations of cockroaches, palmetto bugs, waterbugs, silverfish, termites and, you guessed it, carpenter ants.


Al Abruzzese, owner of the website Al's Home Improvement Center, swears by boric acid to get rid of wood-boring pests. He says it is safe enough to use around children--it has been used in ointments and salves for diaper rash on babies in the past--and can be an important part of eyewash solutions as well. One common brand name to look for is Nisus Bora-Care, but any pesticide with boric acid or borax listed as an active ingredient will do just fine.

For those not into do-it-yourself pest control, calling an exterminator that uses all-natural products is a good option. Oregon's All Natural Pest Elimination, for instance, uses products from Natureline--crafted from safe botanical extracts and essential oils.

CONTACTS: Al's Home Improvement Center,; M1 Natural Pest Elimination,; Nisus Corporation,

Dear EarthTalk: What is the status of wetlands in North America? Years ago I remember that wetlands loss, due to development and sprawl, was accelerating fast, but I haven't heard much on the topic of late.--John Mossbarger, La Jolla, CA

Wetlands serve as primary habitat for thousands of wildlife species and form an important ecosystem link between land and water. They also play a key role in maintaining water quality and provide a natural buffer against storm surges and rising floodwaters.

The eradication of wetlands began when white settlers started developing homesteads and town sites throughout what was to become the U.S. and Canada. Researchers estimate that in the early 1600s, the land that was to become the lower 48 states had 221 million acres of wetlands. By the mid-1980s, following another great period of loss after World War II when army engineers drained huge swaths of formerly impenetrable marshes and swamps, the continental U.S. had only 103 million wetland acres remaining. Across the U.S. and Canada, the vast majority of wetlands--about 85%--have been destroyed in the name of agricultural expansion. Other factors include building roads, houses, shopping mails, airports and reservoirs. Though programs such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetland Reserve Program have been effective in stemming the tide of wetlands loss, the nation is still losing upwards of 50,000 wetland acres per year, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Canada, meanwhile, harbors a quarter of the world's remaining wetlands. Researchers believe about 50 million acres of wetlands have been lost in Canada since European settlement. On the global level, 158 governments are signatories to the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Some 1,743 wetland sites--totaling almost 400 million acres--have been protected as "Wetlands of International Importance" under the terms of the treaty. That treaty's very existence highlights how seriously the majority of the world's countries take protecting land once declared useless.

CONTACTS: Natural Resources Canada,; Ramsar Convention on Wetlands,; Wetlands Reserve Program,
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Title Annotation:EARTHTALK: Questions & Answers About Out Environment
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Previous Article:A trek through time.
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