Invasive Pest Month

Invasive Pest Month

If you have ever traveled out of the country, you have been given a set of rules to follow when bringing back stuff from your holiday. This list includes no meat, fruits and vegetables, plants, cut flowers, and then other stuff. Do you know why those rules exist?

The rules are to try and prevent invasive pests from entering the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has proclaimed August as “Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.” An invasive is a plant or animal from another country that then escapes and starts to take over things. Invasives cause over $1 billion in damage to the United States in a year. Think fire ants, which arrived in a load of ship’s ballast in Mobile, Alabama in the 1950s and have taken over the South.

The North isn’t safe, either. The emerald ash borer beetle is an Asian bug that is killing huge swaths of ash trees from Michigan to New York, and is spreading rapidly. Louisville sluggers, the famous baseball bats made from ash, may be a casualty of this invasive species.

How do these things get here? Sometimes deliberately, such as the English sparrow. A high nut released breeding populations of all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare into Central Park in New York in the early 1900s. Some of them died or stayed local, but some spread rapidly.

Most of the time, though, it is unexpected. Thrips hitch a ride on a plant brought back from another country. Fire ants are in the soil used as ballast on a ship. The emerald ash borer probably came into the country in a packing crate made with untreated wood.

What can you do? APHIS has a cool website called Hungry Pests that gives more information on invasive species and how to prevent their arrival or spread. Texas has a website called Texas Invasives that trains citizen scientists to clarify and report invasive species. Other states probably have similar sites, so a search on “invasive species” and your state will probably turn up one where you live.

In addition, there are five meaningful concepts to remember, quoted from Hungry Pests:

  • Don’t pack a pest. When traveling, make sure you don’t have any unintended stowaways.
  • Be aware of quarantined areas. Don’t move fruits, vegetables or plants in or out of areas that are under quarantine.
  • Check your packages. Many times, invasive pests come packaged in things we order from other states or counties. Check packaging and goods to ensure no pests are sneaking in.
  • Pests aren’t pets. They may look cute and cuddly, but leave them where they are. Don’t move a pest from one location to another…you may be helping them spread.
  • Report a pest. If you see an uncommon pest in your back yard, garden or anywhere else, report it to your local county agriculture commissioner.

One more is do not transport firewood out of your county. If you are traveling to a place where you need some, buy it there. The emerald ash borer is spreading in firewood and some other pests could, too.

You do not want to help an invasive pest spread, or have your name forever associated with one as the person who let x bug into the area. Follow these recommendations and you will not have to worry about that.

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