It was the love of the serene Caddo Lake that caused Daren Horton, owner of Gecko Pest Control and president of the Caddo Lake Biocontrol Alliance to sell his pest control business in Dallas and to move to Uncertain in 2008. But having to defend his chosen home, Horton said, was the last thing on his mind.
“Salvinia was not a problem when we first started coming here,” Horton said. “It was first found in 2006 on the Louisiana side. It got worse and worse. Before we were here, volunteers from the Greater Caddo Lake Association built a nylon webbed fence all the way across the lake to separate the Texas and Louisiana side.
“Sometimes a fisherman would be upset they had to go all the way around the netting, and they would cut it. Hurricane Ike came through and salvinia entered the Texas side,” Horton said.
The results were devastating.
“In 2013, you couldn’t get a boat into Johnson’ Ranch to get gas, which is the only place on the Texas side you could get gas,” Horton said. “The main waterways were becoming clogged.”
Horton said salvinia had been a problem for other countries dating back 50 years.
“Salvinia is native to Brazil,” Horton said. “It was first found outside of Brazil in Australia in the 1960s. They fought it and fought it with herbicides before finally sending scientists over to Brazil to find out why it wasn’t taking over Brazil. That was when the giant salvinia weevil was found. It is host-specific; salvinia is the only thing it eats.
“Insects know that if they have a huge food source and they eat it all up, they die,” Horton said. “When the food starts running out, the reproduction rate starts slowing down, so there is a natural balance like there is in Brazil.”
Horton said in 2013, Texas A&M had a research facility at the wildlife refuge where they had success producing and rearing weevils in the area.
“They took the weevil out onto the Lake and they saw results. We found out from Parks and Wildlife the weevil was doing a good job controlling salvinia in the southern sectors of Texas. This is the farthest north salvinia can actually survive.”
Inspired by this news, Horton said the Greater Caddo Lake Association held a meeting with the City of Uncertain, the Cypress Valley Navigation District, representatives from the Dallas Caddo Club and other local entities with the sole purpose of raising enough money to build a green house.
“Word got out on Facebook about the meeting — it was just supposed to be a small meeting between the entity representatives — and around 200 people showed up,” Horton said. “We talked about salvinia, the weevil and informed the people.”
The great success of the first meeting spawned town meetings in Jefferson and Marshall, leading to around $200,000 in funding from Harrison County, Uncertain, the Dallas Caddo Club and area individuals interested in preserving Caddo Lake. By the next year, the Uncertain Morley Hudson Weevil Greenhouse was operational, marking the first high-production weevil rearing facility in the world.
“I remember my wife looked at me and said, What are we going to do about this? Somebody’s got to do something.’” Horton said. “It was just an idea that turned into a community meeting that snowballed. The Greater Caddo Lake Association is the one that really formed what was first called the Salvinia Action Committee, later named the Caddo Biocontrol Alliance. From that, we started getting funds, opened an account and turned ourselves into a 501©(3).”
Today, the Caddo Biocontrol Alliance is the operation management arm of the Greenhouse, with the Greater Caddo Lake Association of Texas acting as the fundraising entity.
Horton said the alliance could not operate without its many “boots on the ground” members: Robert Speight is the vice president of the CBA; Ted Barrow, board member and former greenhouse manager; CBA Treasurer Jan Cook; board member Steve Sedberry; and CBA’s sole employee Laura Speight.
“These are the nucleus of people that are responsible for the success of the Morley Hudson Weevil Greenhouse,” Horton said. “The Greater Caddo Lake Association of Texas serves as the fundraising arm of the bio-control project and is the only guaranteed steady source of funds going forward. The Cypress Basin Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists need to be thanked for their many, many hours of volunteering in maintenance and weevil releases.”
Horton said he works with the East Texas Council of Government to get support in finding, preparing and submitting grants.
“I am the marketing arm; I run community meetings and I handle education,” Horton said. “I don’t roll-up my sleeves and do weevil releases and manage the greenhouse everyday. I am proud to play a small part on a great team of fantastic people who happen to be dear friends as well.”