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.

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