Termites in Central Oregon

Pro Tip

Termites are common in eastern Bend, Redmond, Sisters, and other desert communities. These insects seem to almost disappear in the higher elevation, pine tree dominated areas of Central Oregon such as Sunriver and La Pine.

There are at least two species of termites (and maybe as many as five species) in Central Oregon. There are three subterranean termite species that are endemic to arid desert landscapes that have characteristics similar to some termites we have collected, but they have never been identified from this area. The only identified termite here that causes any pest control problems around residences and buildings is the western subterranean termite. This termite is usually found in association with either earth-to-wood contact or a water damage problem. These termites can be controlled by eliminating the conducive conditions that attracted them, and in some cases, a termite treatment is warranted.

FAQ – Termites in Central Oregon

Dispersal tubes from a termite colony
Dispersal tubes from a termite colony

The only group of termites of any concern for homeowners in the Central Oregon area is the subterranean termite. Current literature doesn’t mention any other species as being found in this area, but some of the habits and food preferences (juniper and sagebrush) of termites we have collected suggest that there may be a species other than the western subterranean termite.

The following are some of the most commonly asked questions about our termite species in Central Oregon.

Q: Do we have termites in Central Oregon?

A: We certainly do! I found live them underneath my house that I purchased when we moved to Bend. Termites will be found in the soil of almost every area that has juniper trees on the property. They are common in eastern Bend, Redmond, Madras, Sisters, Prineville and other desert communities. However, termites seem to almost disappear in the higher elevation, pine tree dominated areas of Central Oregon such as Sunriver, Black Butte Ranch, and La Pine. In those areas, the carpenter ants replace the termites as the insect of concern for homeowners.

Q: Why are termites found in some areas, but not in others?

A: There are many environmental reasons for the distribution of termites in Central Oregon such as soil type, soil temperature, amount of moisture in the area, species of natural food sources (not including manmade structures), etc. All of these have an effect on termite distribution. In general, our local termite species seem to prefer the dryer and warmer desert soils associated with the juniper woodlands over the wetter, cooler soils associated with the pine forests.

Termite tunnels with termites underneath the vapor barrier
Termite tunnels underneath a vapor barrier

Q: Do termites serve any valuable purpose in the ecosystem?

A: They certainly do. They play an important role in the food web as a primary decomposer that starts the degradation process of wood so it can be recycled back into the soil for future use by plants and animals. There would probably be a larger problem with forest fires and range firs if wood destroying organisms (termites, carpenter ants, beetles and fungi) didn’t exist.

Q: What are the concerns for a homeowner or house buyer about wood destroying organisms?

A: Termites and other wood destroying organisms can do damage to the wood parts of a structure, which if extensive enough, can destroy or compromise the structural integrity of that structure.

Q: Should all structures be checked?

A: It never hurts to have a WDO (wood destroying organism) inspection. Most of the pest management professionals in the area are very capable of doing a thorough inspection for wood destroying organisms. This can protect you from purchasing a property that has a serious structural problem. One caution though: if an inspector says you have a problem and need a costly treatment, get a second opinion.

Q: Does finding evidence of termites near or underneath a structure mean that a termite treatment is needed?

A:  Not always. Some pest control companies will always recommend a whole house treatment if termites, or evidence of termites, is found during a structural inspection. Other companies, like Alpine Pest Management, prefer to recommend non-pesticidal remedies such as correcting the conducive conditions that attracted the termites to the area.

Q: What are some of the conducive conditions that you are referring to?

A: The most common condition that we find in Central Oregon is earth-to-wood contact. This occurs in a variety of ways, for example: raised flower beds against the siding of the house; wood scraps left in the crawl space during construction, or a sloping hill that over time has settled against the siding. Another common conducive condition is a water leak from plumbing or leaking roofs. These conditions should be corrected which may then eliminate the need for any termite treatment.

Q: Should a structure be treated if live termites are found?

A: Not necessarily. As I mentioned in the first answer of this Q & A section, I found live termites underneath my house when I did a WDO inspection for my purchase in 1992. They were in some wood scraps left from the construction of the house. I removed the wood scraps, and the evidence of termites underneath my house was gone. My house has a good crawl space with at least a 6” earth-to-wood gap between the soil and any wood supports (piers), and there weren’t any moisture problems, so no treatment was done. In 1998, I put a couple of 2x4s in the crawl space near where the termites were found in 1992. It took about 3 months for the termites to locate the wood that I put there and become established. I had given them some food, and they were going to take advantage of it. The scraps were removed, and I would be willing to bet that my house would get a clean WDO report if an inspection was done tomorrow.

Q: So, what’s the bottom line?

A: Termites are opportunists—they will take advantage of favorable conditions and food. So, if they are provided with the necessities for survival, they will exploit them. Also, since they are found throughout the Central Oregon region in areas with juniper trees, I wouldn’t recommend a treatment for any structure simply because live termites have been found in the area. A structure must have some favorable conditions that encourage termites to it. Correct those conditions, and then they won’t be interested. Termites are an important part of our ecosystem, and we certainly don’t need unnecessary pesticide applications. Termite treatments should only be used if the favorable conditions can’t be corrected or eliminated.

Q:  Can you give me an example of a situation that would benefit from a treatment?

A:  One example of a structure that would benefit from a treatment would be a house that has slab radiant floor heating. Termites are attracted to the area underneath the slab because of the warmth and higher moisture levels associated with warmer soil. Obviously, in this case, the conducive conditions can’t be remedied. Although the termites probably won’t do any damage to the structure, they can be a nuisance each year during the swarming season when they emerge through cracks and openings around pipes in the slab.

Another time I would recommend a treatment is when termites have come into a structure because of a water leak or other condition. In this scenario, a preventive treatment may be warranted because there may either be live termites in the structure, or there may be a pheromone trail to the area that might encourage a reinfestation.

Please contact Alpine Pest Management at 541-389-4942 if you have any more questions or a potential termite problem.