Monday, January 31, 2011

Got Weeds? So Now What?

It is quiet common for us to receive calls from people complaining about weeds on their neighbor’s property. You can understand the annoyance of someone that works hard to control the weeds on their property, only to have the neighbor’s weeds continue to seed the whole area. There ought to be a law that your neighbors have to control their weeds, right?  Of course, if there was such a law, it would apply to everyone, including you and I. Hmmm, maybe we should think about that very carefully.

            The Oregon Department of Agriculture is thinking about weed regulations and gathering input from interested parties. Here is the background:

            The last legislature passed a law declaring noxious weeds to be a public nuisance. It is important to note up front that the dandelions in your lawn and many other common weeds are not official state noxious weeds. Only the really bad ones that cause economic or ecological harm are listed by the State Weed Board as noxious. You can find the list at:

            Last fall the Department started the process of turning the legislature’s directive into policy. The first thing we did was ask for help from people all over the state that care about weed issues. Here is the email we sent out to our weed list serve:

“Dear Cooperators,
ODA needs your help. In the last legislative session, Oregon's noxious weed statutes were consolidated, updated, and expanded (ORS 569). Included in this rewrite was new authority to address noxious weeds as a public nuisance:

ORS 569.180: ". . .noxious weeds are declared to be a public nuisance and shall be detected, controlled, and where feasible, eradicated on all lands in this state. It is declared to be the policy of this state that priority shall be given first to the prevention of new infestations of noxious weeds and then to the control, and where feasible, eradication of noxious weeds in infested areas."

It is time for us to develop regulations clarifying what this means for you, me, and the other citizens of Oregon. Before ODA puts pen to paper to develop draft rule language, we'd like your thoughts on what should be included in the regulations.

Below are some questions to stimulate thinking. Are there other questions you'd like us to consider?  What issues/gaps would you like to see addressed?

1.) The State Weed Board classifies noxious weeds as "A" (highest priority for exclusion/eradication) or "B" (bad, but too late for eradication). How should this classification be applied to land mangers that have noxious weeds on their land?

2.) What about "T" (current target weeds, either A or B) weeds? Should a T/B be a different priority than a non-T/B?

3.) Enforcement of noxious weed regulations has been exclusively a county function, but not all counties have weed programs. Is there an enforcement role for the State, especially in counties without weed programs?

4.) The new law grants ODA "access to all lands within this state to carry out ORS 569.175 to 569.195."  It also says "no person shall fail to cooperate with the State Department of Agriculture in the administration" of these laws and the "rules promulgated pursuant thereto . . . " Further it states that: "if abatement procedures are required of a landowner, recommend that the landowner and the department jointly develop a management strategy or plan. . . " How would that look in practice?

5.) ORS 569.185 directs ODA to "administer and enforce" an "integrated weed management approach that focuses on the prevention of noxious weeds. . ."  How should we do that?

We'd appreciate your thoughts as we start down this road. There will be lots of other chances to provide comments, but this is your best opportunity to help shape the overall framework. Thanks for your help. We look forward to your input.”

       The response was huge. We got over fourteen pages of comments!  Four themes appeared over and over:

1.)  Whatever you do, make it simple to understand and easy comply with.
2.)  “B” weeds do matter.
3.)  Don’t interfere with existing programs that are working.
4.)  People need more information about weeds and how to control them.

            The next step was for us was to brainstorm how we could convert these ideas into regulations that would work in the real world. This week our Noxious Weed Control staff grappled with that issue and settled on a direction we’ll soon propose as a draft regulation. The nutshell version is that we’ll be proposing to amend OAR 603-052-1200 (Noxious Weed Quarantine, which prohibits importing and selling noxious weeds), to clarify ODA/County/ landowner responsibilities for weeds in the landscape.

“A”-rated weeds would continue to be handled by ODA with the goal of early detection and rapid response (EDRR), i.e., eradication. Dealing with “B”-rated weeds would be the landowner’s responsibility. Enforcement of “B”-weeds issues would be on a case-by-case basis through the county weed district system, as it is now. ODA would continue to be a source of information, technical help, weed identification, and biological control agents for all weeds.

            That is the proposal. You can expect proposed rule-language later this winter and a public comment period in the spring. What do you think?  Are we on the right track?  Would it work for both you and your neighbor?

Dan Hilburn

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sudden Oak Death is Here to Stay

Ten years ago, dead tanoak trees were spotted during an aerial survey in the woods north of Brookings, Oregon. Sudden oak death (SOD), an invasive plant disease, had killed them. Immediately, four agencies (Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service, and Oregon State University) combined forces in an attempt to eradicate the infestation. For the past decade, they have tried everything they could think of, including cutting and burning hundreds of acres of trees, to stomp out the disease. This week they admitted defeat. Sudden oak death is here to stay.
Oregon’s SOD Task Force deserves huge credit for trying. It was a huge challenge and a courageous effort in a very remote area. Complicating matters from the start, this disease was new to science, and practically nothing was known about how it spread or how to control it. We know a lot more now. Too bad we can’t turn back the clock and try again. Oregon’s SOD busters are an outstanding team: Alan Kanaskie and Stacy Savona (Oregon Dept. of Forestry), Nancy Osterbauer (Oregon Dept. of Agriculture), Ellen Goheen (U.S. Forest Service), and Everett Hanson (Oregon State University). Thank you, it was a valiant effort, we salute you for dedicating a large part of your career to keeping keep SOD out of Oregon for as long as possible. Even though eradication didn’t work, your efforts kept the disease bottled up in a small area for 10 years. You bought us time. No one else anywhere in the world has ever eradicated a plant disease from a forest either. It was worth a try.
What happens now?  The Task Force met this week to discuss options. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good ones, especially given current budget realities.
Five options were discussed:
1.)    Continue the eradication treatments until the money runs out, then stop.
2.)    End the program entirely.
3.)    Treat only outlier sites to slow disease spread.
4.)    Create a host-free zone in an attempt to stop disease spread and continue to treat outliers outside the zone.
5.)    Treat with Agrifos (a phosphonate chemical that boosts tree immunity) to protect trees.
Option one would be like driving over a cliff. Number two would be the equivalent of giving up because it is hard. Options four and five would each cost millions of dollars that we don’t have with no guarantee of success. SOD jumped a host-free zone in Humbolt County, California recently. Wide-area treatment with Agrifos is being tried in Australia on a related disease. Here it would trigger an Environmental Impact Statement (a process that takes years) because federal land would be involved, and it can’t be sprayed over streams, making it impractical. That leaves option three: slow the spread by treating the outliers.
Sudden oak death, like a lot of diseases, doesn’t spread evenly along a continuous front. Spores blow in the wind like cinders coming out of a campfire. Every now and then those sparks start new infestations out in front of the generally-infested area. Stomping them out won’t stop the disease, but it should slow the overall rate of spread. Once again Oregon would be pioneering something that no one has ever tried.
Here is the recommendation from the Task Force:
1.)  Finish up all work-in-progress as of January 2010.
2.)  In the future treat only outlier sites on private land, and treat all sites on federal lands. Sites in the generally-infested core area would no longer be cut or burned by the State.
3.)  Landowners within the generally-infested core area would be encouraged to cut and burn infected and nearby tanoak (or other hosts) with possible assistance through a 50:50 cost share program with the Oregon Department of Forestry if funds are available. Landowner expenses to treat infested sites would qualify as non-federal matching dollars, freeing up US Forest Service money to support detection surveys, technical assistance to landowners, and treatment of high-priority outlier infestations.
4.)  Highest-priority outlier sites (furthest from the core) would be treated first. If resources allow, additional outlier sites could be treated working from the outside in.
5.)  Quarantine requirements should change. Cutting and burning in the generally-infested area would no longer be required, just encouraged. The quarantine boundary would be expanded as necessary if/when the disease spreads beyond the current line.
This is a big change, and right or wrong we’ll all have to live with the consequences. Before any of this happens, the Department wants to gather input from interested parties. The SOD Core Group, a loose network of stakeholders, will be briefed at their next meeting on Feb. 18 in Salem. A public information meeting will follow in Brookings, tentatively on March 2. Changes to the quarantine would trigger additional meetings. If you have thoughts, ideas, or comments, now is a good time to share them. I monitor comments to this blog, or you can send me an email at: What do you think of this proposal?  Do you have a better idea?
Dan Hilburn

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Down Side of Honesty

Should the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) report finding a new invasive pest if the insect was only a hitchhiker and the record could be a black mark against Oregon exports? We’ve faced this dilemma before, and we’re facing it again right now. Here is the background.

One of our entomologists (Richard Worth) has been working through a backlog of delta trap inserts from last summer. Recently he found a suspect light brown apple moth (LBAM) from a trap in Polk County. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted its own analysis of the moth and has confirmed it as LBAM, Epiphyas postvittana, an invasive species on Oregon’s 100 Worst Invaders List. The moth is a single specimen trapped in one of two traps set at a nursery. The nursery imports plants from California where LBAM is established. No other LBAMs were trapped in any of the other 1,062 LBAM traps placed in Oregon in 2010, nor were any caught here in 2008 or 2009. All the evidence points to a hitchhiker (a.k.a. “a regulatory incident”) rather than an established population.

Oregon and all the other states enter pest survey results into a national database each year. The National Agricultural Pest Information System (NAPIS) is an old system, but it very useful for tracking the distribution of invasive agricultural pests. We consult it regularly. So do regulatory officials from around the world. If someone in their country wants to import Oregon products, they’ll probably check NAPIS to see if we have any pests of concern to them.

We briefly considered sweeping this incident under the rug and not entering it in NAPIS. This has been done before by other states, however it rarely goes unnoticed for long, and their reputation suffers. Not reporting survey records is like hiding a bad report card from your parents. It might avoid some short-term unpleasantness, but chances are you’ll get in bigger trouble later. Our experience with trading partners is similar. We’ve found it is better to be honest and hope the extra points we get for being a good trading partner offsets any potential hesitation caused by a single pest record.

There is a risk here. Single records can become immortal. A good example is mile-a-minute, Polygonum perfoliatum, a fast-growing vine with thorns. It is also known as Asiatic tearthumb – you can guess the reason why. The first record from the United States came from Portland, Oregon in the 1890s. It is believed to have arrived in dirt used as ship ballast. To my knowledge, this plant hasn’t been seen since, though you’ll still see maps indicating mile-a-minute is found in Oregon!*

ODA is working on a carefully worded press release to break the news about LBAM being trapped here. Cross your fingers that it doesn’t ignite a storm of regulatory action against our commodities. If anyone asks, please relay that it was just a hitchhiker, and ODA is planning to put out lots of traps next year to prove it. And, if you know of any mile-a-minute in Oregon, please report it (1-866-INVADER or We’d like to erase that black mark, too, though the fact that it was once found here is interesting and shouldn’t be buried.

*Invasive Plants, Changing the Landscape of America. Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds. 1998. Washington, D.C.