Agency delays plan targeting sudden oak death

Capital Press file photo Toby Primbs, plant health survey technician for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, takes samples from plants at a nursery near Forest Grove, Ore., in 2009.

Nurseries say APHIS order provides more paperwork, but not more protection

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

Federal officials provided West Coast nurseries breathing room this week when they delayed a new requirement for shipping nursery stock that can host sudden oak death.

But the delay falls short of easing industry concerns.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service officials earlier this month told West Coast agriculture officials they planned to delay by as much as three weeks implementation of the federal order. It was initially scheduled to start June 21.

The order requires 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.

The delay is a positive step, said Oregon Association of Nurseries Government Relations Director Jeff Stone, but not OAN's ultimate goal.

"The goal is to make sure that if USDA takes further action to control the spread of P. ramorum, it is done in a transparent manner," Stone said on the OAN website.

"Moreover, we want to be sure that the action is fair to all 50 states and actually prevents the spread of P. ramorum, as opposed to simply erecting further barriers to trade," Stone said.

USDA proposed the new order after Oregon Department of Agriculture inspectors found sudden oak death at a nursery during an annual inspection.

It is unknown if the nursery shipped any infected material prior to the discovery, Dan Hilburn, administrator of ODA's plant division, said. Hilburn said department policy prohibits him from releasing the name of the nursery.

No infected material has been found in other states or at sites in Oregon where the nursery ships, Hilburn said.

ODA typically finds sudden oak death at 1 percent of the nurseries it inspects, Hilburn said.

This discovery was more significant than previous discoveries, because the nursery in question is large and ships to several states, Hilburn said.

Hilburn, like Stone, said the federal order has little scientific basis and will provide little or no added protection for states receiving potential sudden oak death host material.

The order, however, adds another layer of paperwork, Hilburn said.

"All (USDA) is doing is putting on another Band-Aid," Hilburn said. "And these Band-Aids aren't helping."

To eradicate the disease, "we need to find ways to get everybody up to a new standard," he said. "This just sucks up a lot of time and money."

Hilburn called on USDA to help fund a sudden oak death prevention program that focuses on developing best management practices based on critical control points.

Also, Stone said, the new federal order flies in the face of stakeholder consensus that the existing federal rules regulating sudden oak death are effective.

Existing federal rules require nurseries producing sudden oak death host material to be inspected annually and certified they are free of the disease.

Stone said USDA sprang the new order on West Coast nurseries without adequate notification or explanation.

Online

For more information on sudden oak death and Phytophthora ramorum, go to www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/pram/

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