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Sudden oak death still on nursery radar

Published on August 21, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on September 18, 2010 12:09PM

USDA proposes increased protocol in shipping notification


Capital Press

The furor surrounding sudden oak death in nurseries just won't go away.

Until earlier this year, it appeared that Oregon's program of certifying that nurseries are free of the disease in annual inspections was easing out-of-state worries. Earlier this year, however, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed stepping up shipping notification protocol.

The protocol would have required nurseries in Oregon, Washington and California to notify receiving states in writing when they ship nursery stock that can host Phytophthora ramorum, the fungus associated with sudden oak death.

West Coast nurseries potentially affected by the new order objected to it, saying it would increase paperwork without providing benefits to nurseries in receiving states.

Officials in other states, however, viewed the order as vital to helping trace movement of infected plants.

"Prenotification ... would provide the receiving state with information that could save valuable time and resources for locating plants in a potential trace-forward," Christel Harden, an agricultural official in South Carolina, wrote in an e-mail.

Now Dan Hilburn, administrator of the plant division at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, wants the USDA to refocus its sudden oak death programs.

"I think the USDA needs to take the national sudden oak death program in a new direction," Hilburn said.

"We know a whole lot more about the disease than we used to," he said. "We know how to prevent it, and we need to concentrate more on preventing it in nurseries than checking for it."

The current testing program involves many man hours, extensive laboratory testing and is expensive to operate, Hilburn said. The Oregon Department of Agriculture each summer employs six people to check nurseries for sudden oak death and two to three laboratory technicians to test for the P. ramorum fungus.

Typically, Hilburn said, field technicians find sudden oak death in about 1 percent of the nurseries tested.

When the program was put in place, it made sense, Hilburn said.

"When we first found sudden oak death, we didn't know how to prevent it," he said. "All that has changed."

Hilburn is advocating for the USDA to help states implement best-management-practice programs to reduce incidence of sudden oak death.

"Suppliers need to get to the point where they are using best management practices that we now know work for P. ramorum and all the other phytophthoras," Hilburn said.

Examples of best-management practices, Hilburn said, include filtering or treating recycled water before re-using it and sterilizing pots before re-use.

Hilburn said it could take years for the new approach to be fully effective: But the result -- removing P. Ramorum as a significant interstate issue -- makes the pursuit worthwhile, he said.


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