Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Unnatural Life of a Plant Quarantine

Japanese beetle

Plant quarantines are an important tool for excluding invasive species. Oregon has a bunch of plant quarantines; other states and countries have them, too. When one place has a pest problem that others don’t want, quarantines are often enacted to regulate trade from the infested area.

Oregon’s plant quarantines include: grape pests, chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease and elm yellows, blueberry maggot, peach yellows, peach latent mosaic viroid, peach rosette phytoplasma, oak wilt, apple maggot, European corn borer, Japanese beetle, exotic phytophagous snails, cherry bark tortrix, small broomrape, noxious weeds, glassy-winged sharpshooter, and Phytophthora ramorum (sudden oak death). Oregon also has control areas for most of its agricultural regions, which are sort of mini quarantines. You can see these regulations in their entirety in Volume 13, Oregon Administrative Rules, Chapter 603, Division 52:

If that doesn’t put you asleep, the National Plant Board maintains summaries of all the states’ quarantines on their website:

Quarantines come and go, or at least they should if they are based on biology. Unfortunately, their birth and death are impacted by realities, such as bureaucracy, staff shortages, and human nature. Sometimes they take on a life of their own.

The Umatilla County Control Area for orchard pests is a good example (OAR 603-052-0201 & 0206). This regulation was enacted in 1974. It requires everyone that lives within the designated area to take care of, i.e. spray, his or her fruit trees. It is based on a sound premise—if everyone takes care of their pest problems, the overall pest pressure in the region will be reduced and everyone benefits.

I have two problems with this quarantine. First it mandates all host trees, including those on commercial, residential, public, and abandoned properties, be sprayed with “agricultural chemicals or pesticides.” This is not consistent with modern integrated pest management. We know a lot more now about how to suppress pest populations with less reliance on pesticides. Secondly, and this is my biggest beef, the quarantine boundary is incomprehensible. Here is the description:

“Beginning at the point of intersection of the North and South Center Line of section 18, Township 6 North, Range 35, E.W.M. and the boundary between the States of Oregon and Washington; thence Southerly along the North and South center lines of sections 18, 19, 30, and 31 in Township 6 North, Range 35, E.W.M. to the quarter corner common to section 31, Township 6 North, Range 35, E.W.M. and section 6 Township 5 North, Range 35, E.W.M. thence Easterly along the line common to sections 31 and 32, Township 6 North, Range 35, E.W.M. and 6 and 5 Township 5 North, Range 35, E.W.M. to the corner common to sections 32 and 33 in Township 6 North, Range 35, E.W.M. and sections 4 and 5 in Township 5 North, Range 35, E.W.M.; thence Southerly along the line between sections 4 and 5 in Township 5 North, Range 35, E.W.M. to the quarter corner between said sections 4 and 5; thence Easterly along the East and West center line of sections 3 and 4 in Township 5 North, Range 35, E.W.M. to the quarter corner between sections 2 and 3, Township 5 North, Range 35, E.W.M.; . . . . . .”

Trust me—this boundary description goes on, and on, and on, and on, and . . .

Maybe that made sense in 1974, but I doubt if there is a person alive in Umatilla County that knows for sure whether they are in or out of the control area! I’d wager that most people aren’t even aware of the law.

Obviously the regulation needs attention. We set out to clarify things a few years ago and worked with an advisory committee to draft language that would make sense in today’s world. Our proposed amendments would have encouraged integrated pest management and simplified the boundary to all of Umatilla County minus the Umatilla Indian Reservation. We held a hearing in Pendleton and opened up a public comment period. Some people liked our proposal, but some people really didn’t. The main objection we heard was that we would be forcing more people to use pesticides!

Ironically, during the rule-making process, we learned that there is a local ordinance that duplicates the state control area. In the end, we decided to let the sleeping dog lie. Like a lot of other regulations, this one just stayed on the books.

This fall we decided to kick that sleeping dog again. This time we’re proposing to repeal the control area completely. If we can’t get rid of a regulation that is incomprehensible, out-of-date, and duplicative, I worry about our system. The public comment period is open until Jan. 31, 2012. Anyone can send comments to:

Oregon’s Administrative Rules now fill 19 volumes each of about 600 pages; our revised statutes fill another 17 volumes! That is too much. With an extreme sense of irony, I offer what I see as the only real solution: another law! I wish there was a law that said in order to enact a new regulation; you had to get rid of two old ones first. From an insider’s point of view, I can tell you I would have no problem doing that for the next 10 years or so. There is always demand for new regulations; do something about Arundo (giant reed), protect us from infested firewood, stop the importation of exotic crickets, etc. Rarely do we hear the opposite.

People aren’t aware of all the petrified laws on the books, and if they aren’t being enforced or are not causing problems, they just accumulate. Do you suppose I could get rid of them if I stacked them up on my desk and drove a stake through the pile? I’ve been doing administrative rule reviews since September, and I’m tempted to try it!

Dan Hilburn

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Tree Hitchhikers

Oregon’s frantic Christmas tree harvest is winding down. In just a couple of weeks, seven and half million trees are cut and shipped to retail yards around the world. Only 8 percent of those harvested remain in Oregon. This is a busy time for Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) inspectors and their counterparts in receiving states and countries. All of them are doing their best to ensure that pests and diseases are not hitchhiking on the trees.

Before coming to Oregon, I was an inspector in Bermuda, and I often looked at Christmas trees on the docks in the sunny, warm Hamilton harbor. Truck drivers there traditionally take a small branch from the first Christmas tree shipment and insert it in their truck’s grill. Bermudians smile when they see that little reminder of the approaching holidays (Christmas & Boxing Day).

Every one knows Christmas trees vary a lot in shape and desirability from a consumer’s point of view. None of that matters to inspectors. They focus on insects, slugs, tree frogs, Swiss needle cast, and other potential hitchhiking invasive species. From my days in Bermuda, I remember trees from Canada being the cleanest and trees from the Southeast United States being the buggiest. Whether or not there had been a hard frost prior to harvest made a big difference. Oregon trees were always lush and green, but if they hadn’t been exposed to a frost, they were carrying hitchhikers. We’d thump the trunks on the pavement and look for potential pests among the critters that dropped out.

Bermuda, like many islands, has been severely impacted by harmful invaders, including a scale insect that nearly wiped out the endemic Bermuda cedar. They have good reason to be careful with imported plant material.

So far, 2011 has been a good year for Oregon Christmas tree exports. A total of 99 percent of the trees that were certified for export also passed their import inspection at the other end. The few that didn’t included five truckloads rejected at the Mexican border (yellowjackets, weevils), one container turned back in Japan (strawberry root weevil), three fumigated in Guam (spiders), six held in Hawaii (slugs), and one held in Columbia (unidentified bug). Yellowjackets, slugs, and weevils are all known invaders; hats off to the sharp-eyed inspectors that found them.

Inspections are important in the fight against invasive species, but they are not a panacea. As with other commodities, only a small percentage of Christmas trees are checked on either end. The reason is simple; there are a lot of trees and only a few inspectors. Oregon has 10 inspectors working full time on Christmas trees in the fall. That seems like a lot, but if we estimate that 6,900,000 trees are exported (92 percent of total harvest) and the entire harvest happens over 20 working days, each inspector would have to look at 1.2 trees per second to inspect every tree! The best they can do is look at a sample and catch the obvious problems.

What the world really needs is a way to “pasteurize” Christmas trees. Traditionally, trees were shipped straight from the field “as is”. Many growers now use mechanical shakers to remove dead needles and surface hitchhikers. That helps, and some markets now require shaking. Unfortunately, no one has developed a standard, thus the efficacy varies depending on the speed and duration of the shaking. Starting this year, Mexico required 15 seconds of shaking at 700 rpm as well as an insecticide spray prior to harvest. That seems like overkill. Spinning, bouncing, and blowing have also been tried, but no one has tested the efficacy of these methods.

This year ODA started testing different shaking and spray regimes. It is a first step toward developing standard best management practices that will reliably remove potential pests from these famous holiday icons.

In my dreams, we would offer substantial monetary prize for the first person to develop a fast and economical way to “pasteurize” Christmas trees. We could name the process after the developer, ______(your name here)-ize, so Louis Pasteur could quit turning in his grave, and we could eliminate Christmas trees as a pathway for introduction of invasive species. Wouldn’t that be nice?

None of this matters to Oregonians if they cut or choose locally grown trees. We’re lucky to live where Christmas trees are beautiful, inexpensive, and abundant. For us, the best practice is to thump the trunk in the driveway a couple of times before bringing the tree inside. Your kids might enjoy looking for native bugs among the dead needles, and you won’t bring these annoying Christmas guests inside! 

Dan Hilburn

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pass the Fruit Salad, Please

Spotted wing drosophila on ripe fruit. Photo courtesy of
A year ago I wrote about spotted winged Drosophila (SWD) in Oregon and the lessons learned from the first year of survey, management, and personal consumptive fruit sampling. Since then, another season has passed. We’ve got another year of experience and another belly-full of Oregon fruit under our belt, and we’re gaining confidence that SWD is not the nightmare we once feared.

In a nutshell, here is what we’ve learned from the perspective of growers, researchers, regulators, and consumers:


-Growers, including organic growers, can manage this pest if they pay attention and are ready to act when their crop starts ripening.

-SWD attacks ripe, soft fruit (especially raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries). It doesn’t bother green fruit or hard fruit like apples or pears.

-Populations are low in the spring and early summer. SWD builds up in late summer and fall. Numbers in the Columbia Gorge are consistently much lower than western Oregon.

-Grapes are not a preferred host. SWD is present in vineyards in the fall, but it seems to be attracted to split or damaged grapes.


-There is a lot of research going on, and we understand this pest much better now than when it first showed up (, but there are still unanswered questions:

-Trap counts have increased dramatically in the fall the last two years. Thankfully, this is after our fruit crops are harvested, but we don’t understand why this happens. There were high trap counts all last winter, and then the population crashed in March. That’s weird. It would be nice to know what is going on.

-The standard trap (plastic cup with drilled holes) and lure (apple cider vinegar) is not very sensitive and it catches a lot of other non-pest Drosophila. It works for research, but it isn’t easy for growers/homeowners to use. We need a better trap.

-SWD is not hard to control, there are a number of materials that work, including organics, but with multiple generations, resistance could build up quickly. We need robust management strategies that don’t rely so heavily on cover sprays.


-State and federal regulators across the country have decided not to enact quarantines for this pest recognizing they would have been impossible to enforce and consequently would have had a very low chance of success. Our decision in 2009 not to quarantine infested counties in Oregon was the right one.

-The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has worked with Oregon State University (OSU) and commercial crop consultants to make growers aware of this new challenge and management techniques they can use. The partnership has worked well.


-There is plenty of fresh local fruit available. It is a good idea to rinse it before you eat it; it could have been sprayed, and reducing your exposure to pesticides makes sense.

-If you buy or pick fruit and some goes soft, pick out the bad ones and throw them away.

-Finally, if you’re into unsprayed fruit, accept that you could get some extra protein now and then in the form of SWD eggs/larvae. You won’t taste or feel them, and they aren’t harmful to ingest. 

I once asked another entomologist what he recommended for western cherry fruit fly (another pest with similar habits). He said, “Never eat half a cherry!” Our bodies are fine with the occasional swallowed insect, even if our mind says “gross.” In fact, insects are an important part of human diets in many parts of the world. Think about the choice of trace amounts of pesticide residues or a little extra protein. Which would you prefer to eat?  

Me? I choose fresh fruit from either conventional or organic sources and wash it, sort out any soft ones, and enjoy it. Works for me. During this season of thanksgiving, we should be thankful that we live in a fruit-producing state and have so much fresh produce available to us. Spotted wing Drosophila isn’t going to change that. “Pass the fruit salad, please.”

Dan Hilburn

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Critters in Containers

Scientific name: Tremex columba and other species
(Hymenoptera: Siricidae)
Facts: Horntails are an unusal because their biology that is not typical of most Hymenoptera. The larvae feed in dead logs much like wood-boring beetle larvae. The adults resemble wasps but they have a wide waist and therefore a cylindrical body. Adults are often found ovipositing on logs. 

Photo credit: Bastiaan (Bart) Drees, Extension Entomology, Texas A&M University
A toad hitchhiked from China to Oregon in a container of granite in 2008. Three dozen wood wasps did the same thing recently in a container of machine parts.The first incident was followed by a nightmare of regulatory fumbling; the second was handled like a dream.

The Asian toad incident started when a sharp-eyed inspector in Portland opened a container and saw a “frog” hop out and then back in. The container was resealed. Federal and state agencies debated what to do and who should do it for nearly four weeks. The container was eventually fumigated, and when it was reopened, the “frog” (actually a toad) had croaked. Lots of people, including myself, were embarrassed at the clumsy official response. A multi-agency postmortem was held to figure out what went wrong. The incident report includes a three-page summary of a uncoordinated regulatory process involving a dozen different agencies and companies. A comedian could have turned it into a funny (but very embarrassing) comedy routine. Fortunately, the agencies involved took it seriously and learned from the experience.

The wood wasp incident of 2011 was handled much better. This time it was staff at the receiving warehouse that heard a rustling sound and noticed large insects in a container they had just opened. Recognizing there could be a problem, they closed the container door and notified the broker, who notified Customs.Customs called the USDepartment of Agriculture (USDA). It was Friday afternoon, of course, but USDA sent someone to the warehouse right away. The USDA inspectors found live wood wasps emerging from the wood packing material, resealed the container, and recommended a fumigation treatment. The Oregon Department of Agriculture identified the wasp as an exotic Tremex sp. (wood boring larvae, no native species in Oregon). Both agencies were there when the container was reopened to ensure that the fumigation had killed all the insects, including any larvae still hidden in the wood. The incident ended when the wood was incinerated, and the machine parts resumed their transport – this time without insect cargo.

The difference between the two incidents boils down to better communication and cooperation. No one took charge in the Asian toad incident. One agency after another passed the buck and said they didn’t have authority to do anything, or it wasn’t their problem. I was one of the people that fumbled.

When the 2011 wood wasp incident occurred, USDA took charge and called in ODA for support. Together we identified the problem, determined the level of risk, figured out what needed to be done, and saw it through. Nice job, team.Your quick action saved our trees from exposure to a new pest. Communication and cooperation were the keys to success.

The real heroes, though, were the staff that work for ESCO Corporation and their broker. A big THANK YOU to the folks that noticed a potential problem and reported it: Cedar Whitemen, Mike Plamondon, Shannon Parton, Tracy Ann Whalen, and Robert Boswell. This container had already cleared Customs, and they could have ignored the bugs and sent it on its way. Thankfully, they didn’t. For their good work, they are going to be nominated for an Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC) award. I hope they win; they deserve recognition.

This is a perfect example of how everyone, not just government inspectors, needs to play a role in the battle against invasive species. Recognizing a potential problem and reporting it to authorities is often the first and most important step. Kudos to the ESCO crew for doing it right.

Individually, we don’t stand a chance at excluding invasive species, but working together, Oregon has a pretty good team! Thanks for being a player. And remember, we’ve made reporting easy with our toll-free invasive species hotline: 1-866-INVADER or Keep your eyes open—the next odd-ball invader could end up in your court!

Dan Hilburn

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tricks, Not Treats

Halloween is definitely my favorite holiday. I love to get scared! Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in invasive species. They may not fly on broomsticks or float through walls, but invaders like zebra mussels and sudden oak death can be a terror in their own right, threatening our Northwest economy and ecosystems. Sure, being attacked by vampires isn’t much fun, but a few cloves of garlic and you’re home safe. Try getting rid of a field of invasive prickly Himalayan blackberry or a stream full of tiny self-cloning New Zealand mudsnails…that’s horror!

But if a trick-or-treater came to your doorstep this year dressed as an emerald ashborer or bighead carp, would you recognize their costumes? Would your neighbors? We have the same challenge with real invasive species. Although preventing biological invasions is our best bet, finding them early is critical for any chance of eradication. That means we need as many eyes out there as possible to notice if one of these miniature monsters arrives to our region. The Oregon Invasive Species Council’s (OISC) “100 Most Dangerous” list ( is a great place to find out about some of the most notorious invaders on the watch list. More importantly, learn (and teach others) about the plants and animals that normally occur in Northwest streams, bays, forests, and other habitats. Then, even if you can’t identify something that doesn’t look familiar, you’ll know to sound the alarm.

It’s common knowledge to dial 911 in an emergency, but did you know that alerting the authorities about a new invasive species is just as easy? In Oregon, you can call 1-866-INVADER, or submit your report on the OISC hotline at, where your report will be sent immediately to an expert for a response. There’s also a national reporting hotline for aquatic nuisance species (ANS) at 1-877-STOPANS.

You’re not alone in this fight. Many programs are in place to enhance our ability to spot invasive species quickly. There are amazing advances under development to detect genetic fragments of aquatic invaders long before we ever see them splashing about. Computer models are helping us predict where invasive weeds might spread with a changing climate. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and U.S.Geological Survey (USGS) recently teamed up to improve the ability of agency SCUBA divers to find zebra and quagga mussels underwater. In addition to producing guidelines for conducting underwater mussel surveys, USGS has begun to train divers on the specific skills for finding these "needles in a haystack". A USFWS video on this project is coming soon to the Pacific Region’s aquatic invasive species website:

So, keep your eyes open, and not just for ghosts and goblins. And if you’re still pondering costume options for this Halloween, consider dressing up as giant hogweed or a rusty crayfish. We’ll be standing by ready to respond if someone reports you to the hotline! 

-       Paul Heimowitz, Pacific Region Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oregon's Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program

ODFW boat inspectors

In January 2010, Oregon launched an Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program(AISPP) as a result of House Bill 2220, which passed during the 2009 legislative session. The Oregon Marine Board and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spearhead the program with help from law enforcement agencies and OregonInvasive Species Council member organizations.

The goal—protect Oregon’s environment against the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Essentially, we promote “Clean, Drain, and Dry” and conduct boat inspection stations. Invasive species can hitch a ride on boats (both motorized and non-motorized) and other recreational equipment that come into contact with water. This equipment can then move AIS to new water bodies and across state lines. In the past three years, Oregon joined the ranks of states hosting boat inspection stations, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and California. 

Who is paying to protect Oregon from AIS? The program is funded entirely by the sale of AIS boat permits (also started in 2010). Motorboats pay $5 towards the program when they renew their biennial registration, non-motorized boats pay $5 for an annual permit to carry on the boat, and non-resident motorboats must purchase an annual $20 permit.

Setting up the inspection station
During 2010, Oregon boat inspectors conducted inspections at boat ramps and roadways (at major highway rest areas). The good news is that dirty boats with attached AIS were cleaned on-site with a portable hot water (up to 140o F—the temperature needed to kill the dreaded zebra or quagga mussels) pressure washer unit. The bad news—these boat inspection stations were voluntary, and boats could drive by the stations without stopping. During 2010, only about 1 in 3 boaters stopped at the stations.

We needed help from our legislators to deal with lack of compliance, and we got it. During the 2011 legislative session, legislators passed House Bill 3399, which requires boaters to stop at inspection stations. Violators can be fined $142. To introduce the new law, AIS program partners hosted an inspection station law enforcement day on September 2 at the Port of Entry commercial truck weigh station in Ashland. Orange and white signs and a large digital reader board gave motorists ample notification that the inspection station was ahead. By the end of the day, a total of 47 boats were encountered. Here’s some interesting stats:

  •         20 boats stopped for inspection, but 27 did not (about a 43% compliance rate)
  •          43 boats were found to be clean, and 4 boats had attached aquatic vegetation
  •          We stopped 24 motorboats, 7 personal watercrafts (jet skis), and 16 non-motorized boats.
  •          Boat owners were from six different western states

All but two of the passing boats that didn’t stop were pulled over by State Police troopers—all received warnings for not stopping. An inspector rode with the troopers to perform a quick roadside inspection on boats that hadn’t stopped. All of the motorists that were stopped were very apologetic and provided many excuses for not stopping, including:
·         “I didn’t see the signs”
·         “I have driven by before and never got stopped”
·         “I thought the inspections were only for Californians”
·         “I saw the signs but didn’t know where to stop”
·         “I didn’t think having to stop applied to me”
·         and lastly—and my personal favorite—a retired couple on vacation stated, “I forgot that I put the canoe on top of the truck this morning”

The boat inspection stations are now closed around the state and will re-open next year by Memorial Day weekend. I hope more people comply next year. Permit compliance went up in year two of the program, and over time, more of the boating public will become aware of the requirements. 

Highway sign
“Clean, Drain and Dry” your boat is the message, and when you see that bright orange sign on the highway that says boat inspection ahead, make sure you pull in, or you might find yourself looking in the rearview mirror with red and blue lights flashing at you.

Glenn Dolphin
Oregon Marine Board – AIS Coordinator 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Yin and Yang at Ports of Entry

There is always a pile of folders and papers on my desk. It is my active pile—the stuff that needs attention. Every morning I shuffle the pile and pick out the highest priority projects. Some stuff gets dealt with quickly, and some stays in the pile for a long time. Recently I had to chuckle when an Associated Press (AP) news release on invasive species slipping through our ports (quick action) surfaced back-to-back with a long-time-in-the pile federal register notice about Not Authorized Pending Pest Risk Analysis (NAPPRA). Yin and Yang—two sides of the invasive species coin. Let me explain.

Invasive species reach the United States in different ways. Some of them stow away in vessels, containers, and commodities (e.g., Asian gypsy moth, yellowstarthistle, and zebra mussels); others are brought in intentionally (e.g., Scotch broom, Asian carp, and gypsy moth). These pathways intersect at our airports, seaports, and land ports of entry. Inspectors at the ports are checking both pathways; they are looking for invasive hitchhikers, and they are verifying that intentionally imported plants and animals are allowable species. When they are inspecting live plants and animals for hitch hiking pests, they are doing both at the same time.

The gist of the AP story was that more invasive species have slipped through the ports in the years following 9/11 when inspectors started focusing more on preventing terrorism. Stopping thugs and drugs has became a higher priority than stopping bugs. According to the article, the number of introductions of crop-threatening pests spiked from eight in 1999 to 30 last year. Not good, but not surprising, because we only have enough inspectors to look at a tiny fraction of what we import. Thankfully, the next item in the pile contained better news.

NAPPRA is finally here; it stands for Not Authorized Pending Pest Risk Analysis. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is adopting important new regulations. Until recently, if someone wanted to bring in living plants, they could apply for an import permit—plants were enterable unless listed on the federal noxious weed list. It was a “prohibited list” approach—plants were presumed to be harmless unless they were known bad actors. NAPPRA changes that.

The USDA is putting 148 taxa of plants on the NAPPRA list. This indicates that these plants could became weeds or carry harmful pests, so they are not being approved pending a risk anyalsis. In effect, there will be three categories:

1.) prohibited (noxious weeds);
2.) enterable (history of safe introduction or having a low risk rating from a completed risk analysis); and
3.) not approved pending risk analysis (risk unknown, prohibited until analysis completed).

It makes sense to me. The only thing I don’t like about this idea is the way it is being implemented. Discussion of the need for NAPPRA started a decade ago, and it is just now seeing the light of day. Then instead of all new plants being automatically listed with NAPPRA, the USDA is going to post federal notices and solicit public comment every time they propose adding new taxa. The first list was open for comment for 60 days, and because of requests for more time, the USDA is planning to reopen the comment period for another 30 days! Ugh. Why does it have to be so slow and complicated? Simpler would be better.

In the battle to prevent harmful invasions, the rules of engagement change slowly. Hopefully, this slow but important step in the right direction will improve our success rate at excluding invasive species, and AP’s next story on invasive pest introductions won’t be so discouraging. My active pile is already too tall. . . .

Dan Hilburn

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Arundo Power, Part 2

Last March I posted an article on growing giant reed grass (Arundo donax) in Oregon for biofuel, Today, I want to give you an update.

Arundo donax in Arizona.
Just last month, the State Weed Board and the Oregon Invasive Species Council met in Boardman for a joint meeting focused on Arundo. Included was a tour of Arundo fields, Experiment Station test plots, and Portland General Electric’s (PGE) power plant. Fifty-eight people participated, and most of them stayed until almost 6:00 PM to participate in the interesting discussion that followed.

Oregon's only coal-producing power plant is in Boardman.
If you live in Oregon and use electricity, you are a player in a giant experiment. PGE needs to replace coal as the fuel for their Boardman powerplant by 2020 or shut the plant down. They could build new natural gas-fired power plants, but they prefer to keep the “already paid for” Boardman plant operating with a renewable fuel—thus their interest in a fast growing source of biomass that could be produced in huge quantifies within 50 miles of the powerplant. The power plant consumes 350 tons of coal per hour and operates around the clock! That’s four long trains-worth of Wyoming open pit-mined coal every week.

PGE is proposing to replace all that coal with torrefied biomass (the plant is dried with heat until it almost turns to charcoal) from about 50,000 to 90,000 acres of Arundo. Other sources of biomass, such as torrefied wood waste, could be incorporated with the Arundo. Theoretically, the powerplant would need very little modification for this conversion. Interestingly, because of laws mandating use of renewable energy sources in Oregon, energy produced from biomass would not have to compete with fossil fuel-produced power. We were told it could be five times more expensive to produce, yet it might still be economic. Biomass would be a good complement to wind turbines, because it can provide power when the wind isn’t blowing.

Unfortunatly, Arundo is a weed. In fact, it is considered one of the worst weeds in the world. Arundo is invasive in warm climates, especially in riparian areas. Up until now, it hasn’t been invasive in Oregon, but it will definitely grow here. Some of the fields and test plots that were planted last March and April now have 10-ft. tall plants. It is too early to say how well it will overwinter, but previous test plots in Prosser, Washington persisted for six years.

At this point, the Arundo in Oregon looks like a crop. It has not spread beyond the field borders. It hasn’t produced any flowers or seeds. PGE recently cut and swathed four of the 85 acres currently in the ground. It looks like it will be easy to bale. The canes were pretty well shattered by the mower/conditioner. Pieces of cane and rhizomes left on the ground were dried out and showed no signs of taking root. Oregon State University, PGE, and the first Arundo farmers deserve credit for being careful while sticking their neck out and trying something new.

None of this convinced the people in the group with first-hand Arundo-fighting experience. In fact, they looked at the first year, 10-ft tall plants and shuddered to think how well Arundo would do in our natural riparian areas. After the tour, some of them were less concerned with PGE’s plans to grow Arundo under irrigation circles than they were with Arundo being sold in the nursery trade. Wayne Lei, PGE’s chief engineer on the Arundo project, highlighted this issue by buying a pot of Arundo at a Portland nursery and planting it right beside the front door of the Boardman powerplant!

It seems clear that Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) needs to maintain regulations to prevent Arundo from establishing in riparian areas. This means we need to consider phasing it out of the nursery industry. If we don’t, sooner or later, someone will plant it on a river bank, and we’ll have a weed worse than Japanese knotweed on our hands. Assuming growing Arundo for biomass goes beyond the test phase, we also need to find a mechanism to pay for riparian area surveys. An assessment based on acres planted or tons produced was suggested. I like that idea. Just a dollar or two per acre would pay for a pretty robust survey and maybe some research as well.

Everyone loves the idea of renewable biofuels, and no one wants to introduce new weeds. Can we have it both ways? Planting huge quantities of Arundo involves risk, but maybe if we’re smart about how we do it, we can have our green electricity and our Arundo-free environment, too. What do you think?  ODA will begin crafting Arundo regulations to replace the expiring temporary rule soon. We could use your input.

Dan Hilburn

Monday, September 19, 2011

EDRR for Regular Folks

Lots of people want to help combat invasive species. One of our challenges is that the best strategy for dealing with invaders is to keep them out of Oregon in the first place. So for good reasons, agencies and the Oregon Invasive Species Council focus on early detection and rapid response (EDRR).

Unfortunately, it is hard for the public to participate in EDRR at the state-level. Lets face it—When was the last time you ran into a species on the 100 Worst Invaders list? Seen any alder root rot lately? How about Swede midge? Amur gobies? No? Me neither. Even if one bit me on the nose, there is an excellent chance I wouldn’t recognize them.

But luckily, it isn’t always so difficult. I count 18 species on the Oregon 100 Worst Invaders list that everybody ought to be able to recognize without a microscope or special training. Here is my EDRR list for regular folks. All of these suspected invaders should be reported online at or via the telephone at 1-866-INVADER.

1.) Whirling Disease. If you see fish (especially juveniles) swimming ‘round and ‘round in little circles, it could be whirling disease—report it.

2.) Rock Snot. Gross, slimy stuff that looks like toilet paper trailing in the current in streams and rivers could be rock snot—report it, don’t wipe with it.

3.) Yellow FloatingHeart. This aquatic weed has lily pad-like floating leaves with 5-petalled yellow flowers. If you see it, report it.

4.) Giant Hogweed. This enormous weed looks like cow parsnip on steroids. It can grow 12-15 tall and have leaves three feet across!  Report it if you see it—the sap causes a nasty rash.

5.) Japanese Dodder. Is that orange spaghetti growing in a tree?  Probably not, but it could be this weird parasitic plant—report it if you see it.

6.) Kudzu. Kudzu is a vine that grows up and over trees, telephone poles, and anything else that doesn’t move. It has leaves in groups of 3 resembling bean leaves. Kudzu flowers are rare, but if you see them, they are purple and smell like grape Kool-Aid.

7.) Mitten Crabs. Any crab with furry claws ought to be reported. None of the native crabs wear mittens.

8.) Zebra/QuaggaMussels. Freshwater mussels that stick to boats, docks, mooring lines, etc. should be reported, especially if they have faint stripes.

9.) Africanized HoneyBees. Even experts have trouble distinguishing individual honeybees from African bees. However, their behavior is very different. If you disturb an African bee nest, they will pursue you en masse and follow you for a very long way as you run—get medical attention first, but then report them.

10.) Asian LonghornedBeetle. Regular people have reported several infestations of this striking beetle in other states. If you see a large, shiny black beetle with white spots and antennae as long as it’s body, you should report it.

11.) Emerald Ash Borer. Metallic green beetles shaped like a boat could be emerald ash borer, but they are not commonly observed. In case of an infestation, you are more likely to notice dying ash trees and increased woodpecker activity. Birders, if you notice that, let us know.

12.) Imported Fire Ant. Small ants are common in Oregon, but we don’t have any native species that attack en masse and sting. If that happens to you, report it.

13.) Japanese Beetle. Single Japanese beetles are copper-colored and about the size of a nickel. Individually, they’d likely escape notice, but they like to feed in groups. If you see a bunch of beetles eating roses, grapes, zinnias, beans or other plants, report it.

14.) Asian Carp. Large carp that jump out of the water at the sound of outboard motors should be reported.
15.) Northern Pike/Muskellunge. Long, thin fish with big teeth and small dorsal fins should be reported.

16.) Snakeheads. If you catch a fish that looks like a pike but has a dorsal fin that runs the length of the back, it could be a snakehead and should also be reported.

17.) Mute Swan. Big, white swans with an orange beak that has a black knob at its base should be reported.

18.) Feral Swine. Wild boars should be reported. You’d know it if you saw one, but they are pretty wary, so you’re more likely to see their rooting damage. If you come across an area that looks like it has been rototilled, especially in a riparian corridor, and for no apparent reason, report it.

EDRR makes good biological sense, and in a time of scarce resources, it is our best strategy for keeping out harmful invaders. Everyone can participate at some level. If you see any of the above, please report them to: 1-866-INVADER or Keep your eyes open and thanks for being on the front line.

 Dan Hilburn