The Harm of Dirty Boots
In Australia, and across the world, there are numerous weeds and pathogens that people may be unaware have attached to their boots. As you are walking through a forest, hiking a mountain, working on a farm, or hunting a wetland, these weeds and pathogens may be attaching to your boots unbeknown to you. Then, as you wear them again on your next walk, hike, farm work, hunt, or whatever else, you may be acting as a transport vector for these weeds or pathogens, spreading them to a new location1, 2
This spread might not seem too important to you; however, it is deadly for that new environment. Maybe you’ve brought with you Myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii), a fungal disease which targets native plants within the Myrtaceae family, such as eucalyptus trees, paperbark trees, bottlebrushes, and many more3, 4 . While Myrtle rust does spread naturally via wind, animals, and such, it can also spread quicker by people tracking it across new environments. A disease that has and is causing the extinction of many frog species is Chrytrid (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), which is easily spread from wetland to wetland (or any watersource) via our boots when we step in water5. Our crops and farmland can be easily devastated by “root-rot”, from a soil-borne mould called Phytophthora cinnamomi, which does exactly that, attacks the roots of plants causing mass dieback6.
If this still doesn’t sound serious to you, read into Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4), a disease caused by a fungus called fusarium odoratissium7. Those with banana farm experience will understand this all too well. The spread of this disease can infect all crops within a banana farm quickly, and may lead to the destruction of at least the farm, if not all [banana] plants within the area. Biosecurity measures on banana farms, especially in Northern Queensland, include boot baths and vehicle washes. One farm in Tully, QLD, got the disease so bad that the QLD government had to buy the farm and destroy the crops, devastating an entire family.
Mitigating the Spread of Pathogens and Weeds
So, we know that we might be spreading pathogens and weeds on our boots, how do we mitigate that?
While it depends on the boot itself on how to best clean them, a good first step is to remove any dirt or other debris, before you leave. This could be as simple as brushing them off and removing stuck objects like rocks or sticks. Now, the next step is to use a detergent that’s safe for the material your boots are made of, and it’s best to do this before moving onto a new location. So, if you’re going home after your hunt (for example), you can do it at home – just try not to let it run off into your garden, however if you’re next location is another hunting site, make sure to do this before you leave. This allows the detergent to runoff into the same areas you would have picked up any pathogens or weeds if you have. You can make your own solution using biodegradable detergents, methylated spirits, bleach, etc, or you make up a mix from a concentration like F10 (there’s a government list of registered effective detergents here. Lastly, dry your boots and do any boot care you may need to do.
The dirty boot can be seen as a mark of hard work, that you’ve done something difficult in them, and there’s a level of respect to that. However, as shown, the dirty boot can be a way a harmful disease makes its way into a forest and kills it. It may be the cause of a local extinction of a species of frog. It may be what causes a farmer to lose their crops or feed for their livestock.
As hunters, we have an obligation to do the right thing when we are fortunate enough to be invited onto someone’s property to hunt, an obligation to not be reckless around their livestock, an obligation to not damage their property, and an overlooked obligation; to not bring any pathogens or weeds onto the land they manage.
As hunters, we often talk about how great hunting is as a tool for conservation. We help lower the number of foxes that kill our native marsupials, we help lower the number of cats that are causing many native animal extinctions, so to keep in line with that, it’s our obligation to mitigate the spread of diseases as much as possible.
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- Rashid, T., et al., Shoe soles as a potential vector for pathogen transmission: a systematic review. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 2016. 121(5): p. 1223-1231.
- Lukács, K. and O. Valkó, Human-vectored seed dispersal as a threat to protected areas: Prevention, mitigation and policy. Global Ecology and Conservation, 2021. 31: p. e01851.
- Department of Primary, I., Myrtle rust. Myrtle Rust, 2017.
- Myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) - DCCEEW. Myrtle Rust, 2022.
- Frog Chytrid fungus. Threats to Frogs, 2018.
- Arrive Clean, Leave Clean Guidelines to help prevent the spread of invasive plant diseases and weeds threatening our native plants, animals and ecosystems.
- Panama disease tropical race 4: information and resources for banana growers | Business Queensland. Panama disease tropical race 4: information and resources for banana growers, 2018.