Monday, July 18, 2022

Governor Inslee: hornet hunter (for a day)

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

Governor Inslee learns to use the tracking
 equipment that WSDA staff uses to track
and eradicate Asian giant hornets in Washington. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee held a tracking receiver, looking intently into the woods, carefully listening for “beeps” as he found his way to the tracking device. Typically, the device is tied to an Asian giant hornet, used by WSDA staff to track and eradicate the pest.

Since the news that Asian giant hornets had been found in Washington in 2019, WSDA has been working to rid the state of these pests that threaten our agricultural vitality. This effort has garnered interest nationwide and has required research and training for WSDA staff and federal and neighboring state partners. Governor Inslee joined the crew of hornet hunters for a day, at the second-annual Asian giant hornet field training day. WSDA “hornet hunters,” as their hats affectionately call them, spent the day learning about trapping, tracking, and removing these hornets and their nests. 

The field training day served as an opportunity to cross-train staff on various aspects of the agency’s hornet response, including how to build, bait, and check hornet traps, trying on hornet protective suits, learning about and testing radio hornet tracking equipment, and even simulating a nest extraction.

Eradication coordinator Rian Wojahn
shows WSDA staff and Governor Inslee
how the vacuum works when
removing a nest. 
Hands-on learning

Governor Inslee was an enthusiastic participant and WSDA’s Pest Program was ready to provide hands-on opportunities for the Governor to see all that is involved with the tricky task of eradicating hornets:

·         Hornet suits – Outreach coordinator Cassie Cichorz demonstrated donning the hornet suit the team wears when eradicating hornet nests. Governor Inslee learned the “inside tricks” such as wearing a hard hat inside the suit to not only protect the staff member but help keep the suit hood propped up and easier to see out of. 

·         Tracking devices – Eradication coordinator Rian Wojahn explained how the program uses radio tags about the size of a Tic Tac to track the hornets. The governor then got to work with Nathan Chambers to use the tracking receiver and follow the “beeps” to locate a tag the team had hidden – and he found it!

        Education and outreach – Many of the outreach materials the team has created were on-hand and the Governor was able to learn about the extensive efforts WSDA has put into educating and engaging with the public about the importance of finding and eradicating hornets for our honey bees.

Nest extraction example. 
Drones – Nathan Roueche, the new Asian giant hornet project leader, had the latest addition to WSDA’s hornet-hunting toolbox: an unmanned aircraft system (UAS – aka a drone.) WSDA hopes to be able to deploy the UAS with a receiver attached to make it easier to track the hornets once they are tagged. Rather than relying on following the hornets on foot (through forested areas with thick brush and undergrowth) WSDA hopes to use a drone instead to track the hornet to the nest, and then limit the ground search to a narrowed-down area.

Visiting area zero

In addition to getting a close-up look at WSDA’s hornet-hunting tools, Governor Inslee also visited the area where the hornets have been the most active over the past two years. Several of the families that have actively supported the state’s hornet response - and which had hornets on their property at one time – met with the Governor and shared their experiences with the hornets.

Outreach Coordinator Cassie
Cichorz shows Governor Inslee
how to put on the "hornet suit."

Trudging through the forest, Governor Inslee got to see first-hand some of the challenging conditions the WSDA team works in to find and eradicate hornet nests. The Governor visited the site of the first nest eradication of 2021 (second nest overall) and got to see that WSDA tries to practice “leave no trace” as much as possible. The site was indistinguishable from the surrounding area, with local vegetation quickly having replaced the tree that had to be removed. There was no sign that a tree had even been there a year prior housing a giant hornet nest. The team had a hard time showing the exact spot thanks to the regrowth.

Critical to success: public and leadership support

The Governor dedicated the entire morning to visiting and learning about the hornet response from both the public as well as state and federal agencies. Taking that amount of time demonstrated just how important this project is to the Governor, as well as the rest of the state’s legislative leadership. The governor’s visit – spending time with both the public as well as the program – was emblematic of the collaborative approach that has made Washington’s Asian giant hornet response a model for the nation.