Ag leaders, scientists set priorities to prevent invasive pest threats to the environment and economy
The gypsy moth, an interloper from Europe and Asia, is threatening California's majestic oaks in Ventura County.
Invasive desert knapweed, which comes from Africa, has made its first North American appearance in in California's Anza-Borrego Desert, where it has started to crowd out native plants.
Asian citrus psyllids are slowly spreading the devastating huanglongbing disease in Southern California citrus.
River rats from South America, called nutrias, are munching voraciously on wetland plants in some areas of Stanislaus, Merced and Fresno counties.
These are just a few of the insects, weeds, animals and diseases that have entered the state of California from elsewhere on the globe, causing tremendous ecological damage and huge economic losses to agricultural crops, which ultimately affect every resident of California.
Based on historical data, a new invertebrate species establishes itself in California about every six weeks, on average. They don't all become serious pest problems, but many evade eradication efforts, disrupt carefully balanced integrated pest management programs, hijack sensitive ecosystems, and spoil valued recreational resources and urban landscapes.
A diverse group of university scientists, federal and state government representatives, county agricultural commissioners and non-profit organization leaders who are battling these pests converged at a summit in the state capitol Jan. 11 and 12 to coordinate their efforts, pool intellectual resources, and plot a strategy for protecting agricultural crops, natural resources, unique ecological communities, cityscapes and residential neighborhoods.
“We are a big, beautiful, special place, blessed with great weather and diverse geography,” said California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross at the summit. “That means a lot to our many visitors – including pests.”
“We know that collectively, we have the tools and expertise to prevent invasive species from entering California, spreading and becoming established,” Humiston said. “I am so pleased with the numbers of people here today, and the expertise that you bring.”
A fundamental component of the fight against damaging invasive species is research, Humiston said, adding that the European grapevine moth in an apt example. The pest was detected in California's wine country in 2009, and later found as far south as Fresno County. A multi-agency collaboration responded quickly.
UC ANR academics studied the moth's biology, life cycle, host range and proven management practices. They developed a pest management program that relied on mating disruption with pheromones and application of carefully timed insecticides. In short order, the moth population plummeted, and the state was declared free of European grapevine moth, lifting a quarantine, enhancing farmers' ability to export its product, and preserving the communities' economic wellbeing.
“This multi-agency collaboration contributed to a successful, science-based response plan to a serious pest threat,” Humiston said.
She noted, however, that prevention is the best option.
“This is critical,” Humiston said. “Once the pests are here, they cost us millions upon millions of dollars to manage, not to mention the devastation and destruction inflicted on our crops, natural resources and the damage to local economies.”
In 2010, CDFA created a strategic framework for addressing California's ongoing invasive pest problems and potential future introductions. Successful implementation of the framework requires partnerships involving government from the state to local levels, the agriculture industry and commodity groups, non-governmental organizations committed to the environment, and researchers at UC and other universities.
UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus John Kabashima was instrumental in bringing the summit to fruition. Kabashima, who retired in 2015, continues to lead a battle against invasive shot hole borer pests in Southern California. The insects, originally from Asia, are killing thousands of Southern California trees, and have the potential to kill millions of trees in urban areas, natural areas and even on farms in parts of the state as far north as Sacramento.
“We convened this meeting to bring together experts in the field and people who are feeling the impacts,” Kabashima said. “We're trying to start a 21st century invasive pest program that would then be implemented and funded to address the urgent issues before they cause any more devastation.”
At the end of the two-day summit, the participants voted to decide the most pressing issues and best strategies to take forward to their agencies, coalitions, research groups, legislators and constituents. Key strategies that emerged were:
- Analyze the economic impacts of invasive species management and the cost of “doing nothing.”
- Develop and maintain statewide surveys and map high-risk surveys.
- Increase funding to study invasive species' biology.
- Create a standing rapid response workgroup to guide response to new invasive species. Fund a rapid response emergency fund.
- Enact regulations to control high-risk vectors, such as soil, green waste, gravel, forage, straw and firewood.
- Formalize the Invasive Species Council of California (ISCC) and the California Invasive Species Advisory Committee (CISAC).
Mark Hoddle, UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist and director of the Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside, said the summit was a valuable part of the ongoing battle against invasive pests.
“It's good to see the number of agencies and organizations involved with invasive species issues,” Hoddle said. “I'm impressed with the energy in coming up with these priority lists.”
Summit outcomes will include sending recommended action items to the Legislature for funding consideration.
“Without financial support, many of the management tools that prevent unwanted incursions, find and monitor incipient pest populations, and develop sustainable, cost-effective management programs won't be possible,” Hoddle said.
View Glenda Humiston's opening remarks here: