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

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Invasive Species in a Flat World

A recent digest of US Department of Agriculture (USDA) press releases and federal register posts caught my eye. It contained five items. Individually, they seem rather ordinary, but together they tell a story. What do you notice?

Here is evidence that the world really is flat—not just in the economic sense that Thomas Friedman discussed in his brilliant book (2005) “The World is Flat,” but also for invasive species.

It used to be that oceans and mountain ranges provided geographical barriers that kept the pests in one region out of other regions. Not any more. Globalization of trade and travel has flattened the mountains and built bridges across the oceans. An insect lays its egg on a tomato stem in West Africa or under the skin of a mango in Pakistan, and the larva might hatch in New York or Oregon. Likewise, a pallet made from wood infested with Asian longhorned beetle larvae supports a shipment of computer components made in China, and ends up in Washington (actually happened recently).

I know that USDA works hard to assess the risks of agricultural trade and requires mitigation measures to reduce the risks, but there is no perfect system. If you don’t believe me, take an entomologist or a plant pathologist to the produce section of your supermarket. I’m confident they’d be able to find bacteria, insects, and other live hitchhikers. Good places to look: blemishes on potatoes, brown spots on lettuce stems, and the calyx of apples. As you’d expect, organic produce is often biologically interesting. (Somebody ought to study that.)

I’m not anti-globalization. I like bananas on my cereal and grapes in the winter. But I do think we need to be smart about trade. Tomatoes imported from Africa does not sound smart to me—can’t we can grow our own closer to home? What about the customs and border inspection people, you might ask? Don’t they screen out the problems? They do catch a lot, but visual inspections at the border are not the answer. Not only are many of the pests that are coming into our country microscopic, but we only have enough inspectors to look at a small percentage of the commodities we import.

We also need research on safe, economical methods for disinfesting commodities and robust early detection and rapid response programs for the harmful pests that inevitably slip through.

Finally, we need more people that know how and when to report an unusual scale insect on an orange peel or a spider in their bananas. In Oregon, we’ve made it easy: 1-866-INVADER or Keep your eyes open—you can encounter exotic creatures right in your kitchen in a flat world!

Dan Hilburn