Thursday, August 12, 2010

Progress on Invasive Species Awareness

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared August to be: Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month:
From their press release:

“Preventing foreign pests and diseases from entering the United States is my agency’s number one priority,” said APHIS [Animal, Plant Health Inspection Service] Administrator Cindy Smith. “These destructive pests can jeopardize the livelihood of our farmers, ranchers and foresters, and they can forever alter our natural landscape. We’re dedicating the month of August to raising public awareness about these threats, and we’re asking every American who can to help us fight invasive pests.”
Federal and State Departments of Agriculture have a long history of trying to keep foreign pests and diseases from becoming problems. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), for instance, has been eradicating gypsy moth infestations for 40 years. When I first started working here (1990), awareness of invasive species issues by the public was at a very low level. Even the term “invasive species” wasn’t in general use. I remember giving a presentation in the early 1990s on “Biological Pollution in Oregon.” That term didn’t catch on, but “invasive species” has, and it means the same thing.

In Oregon, general public awareness didn’t really take off until 2008 when the Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC), Oregon Public Broadcasting, and the Salem Statesman Journal coordinated a year-long education and outreach campaign. OPB’s excellent one-hour special, called The Silent Invasion, aired several times and continues to have an impact.

Recently the Marine Board and the OISC have started using billboards on major roads to educate people on the importance of cleaning and drying trailered boats and buying and burning only local firewood. Trailered boats can carry zebra and quagga mussels as well as invasive aquatic weeds. Firewood is a vector for non-native wood borers and plant diseases.

Are these campaigns working? Are people getting the message? There is no question awareness is higher than it was just a few years ago, but we still have a ways to go.

Already this week I’ve had a request for information about “evasive species” in a lake, and a report from a California border station of camper entering California from Oregon with firewood brought all the way from Michigan! California’s inspectors confiscated the firewood, then dissected it, finding emerald ash borer (Oregon 100 Worst Invader List) larvae and adults. On the other hand, it has been a couple of years since anyone has asked me if reintroduced native wolves or illegal immigrants are invasive species!

At the Salem kickoff screening of The Silent Invasion (Earth Day, 2008), I challenged the audience to remember that day as the start of the Oregon invasive species awareness campaign. I told them I hoped someone would contact me 10 years hence (Earth Day 2018) so we could reminisce about invasive species awareness in the good old days and whether the campaign worked. Some campaigns are a flash in the pan and don’t have staying power. If the first year and a half is any indication, I don’t think that is going to happen with invasive species awareness.

I use my mother as an indicator of general public awareness of invasive species. She’s a wonderful person, but natural history is not her thing, and for years I don’t think she really grasped what I do for a living. Now she sends me newspaper clippings from Maine on gypsy moth, Eurasian watermilfoil, and hemlock wooly adelgid. She gets it, and that is a good sign that invasive species awareness campaigns are working around the country, just like here in Oregon.

Dan Hilburn

1 comment:

  1. Insightful and fun as usual, Dan. Please keep sharing your perspectives. -CP