As much as 70 percent of the invasive insects and diseases in U.S. forests can be traced back to the nursery industry, many to imports of exotic plants favored by consumers, according to a recent study.
The statistic is troubling for foresters: In many cases, no biological controls are present for these exotic species and their introduction is outside the foresters’ sphere of influence.
Wyatt Williams of the Oregon Department of Forestry hopes to change that.
As part of a multi-pronged approach to combating invasive insects and diseases in U.S. forests, Williams is hoping to increase awareness of the issue among nursery owners and improve communication between natural resource agencies and the nursery industry.
“It would be great if when we find these invasive pests, we had a quick channel to get that news back to the horticultural industry and say, ‘Hey, we found this. Could you check your channels or your plant orders?’
“We could hopefully stop it right there, or they could communicate it back up the line to their exporters,” he said.
Williams will be addressing the nursery industry as part of a full slate of nursery seminars at the Northwest Agricultural Show on Jan. 28.
Other approaches Williams has identified to help reduce the introduction of invasive insects and diseases in U.S. forests include bulking up inspections of imported plants by increasing funding of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“Right now, there are something like 63 plant inspectors for 18 stations,” Williams said. “If you do the math that means each inspector is responsible for 43 million plant specimens a year.”
Williams said he also would like to see the nursery industry better promote native plants.
“If you go to some of these large nursery company websites, you can shop for plants with all sorts of attributes, such as fast growing or loves shade, but there is no drop-down menu for native. We have a local movement for food, for energy. How about plants?”
Williams also encouraged nursery industry leaders to attend the department’s annual forest health meetings to inform the industry on current threats.
The idea of halting the spread of invasive insects and diseases in U.S. forests seems daunting, but Williams is confident it can be done.
“We have the infrastructure already in place,” he said. “We have a cooperative attitude already in place among the natural resource agencies, and I want to bring the horticultural industry into the loop,” he said. “And I’m optimistic we can do that.”