ARLINGTON, Va., June 15, 2011 /PR Newswire/ -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalized changes to regulations governing international trade in plants used in gardening and landscape design, which will go into effect on June 27, 2011. The Nature Conservancy has encouraged the USDA to revise these antiquated regulations to improve the ongoing efforts by the Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to prevent potentially invasive plants and pests from entering the country. As was recently discussed in a controversial article in the June 9th edition of Nature magazine, the threat of invasive species is easily – and wrongly – confused as the incrimination of all non-native species. In fact, the regulations finalized by USDA-APHIS have put in place new systems that allow imported materials to be judged by their invasiveness potential, not simply by their non-native status.
Originally adopted in 1918 to protect U.S. agriculture from threats like the plant disease that caused the Irish Potato famine, plant importation regulations have remained largely unchanged. During the intervening 90 years, U.S. imports of plants have mushroomed to 1.4 billion live plants and cuttings and bulbs each year. Between just 1995 and 2002, the volume of seed imported to the United States doubled.
The newly revised regulations will give APHIS needed flexibility to act quickly when it detects a potentially invasive plant or pest that is poised to enter the country and cause economic or environmental damage. The rule change, which has been in process for more than six years, will create a new category called 'Not Authorized for Importation Pending Pest Risk Assessment,' or NAPPRA. Under this new regulation, APHIS can quickly restrict the import of plants suspected of being invasive or carrying pests until the risks they may pose are properly understood and protective measures can be put into place.
'The implementation of the USDA's new regulations is a vital step toward minimizing the significant costs and damages sustained by ecosystems, agriculture, homeowners, and businesses as a direct result of the introduction of these invasive pests and plants,' said Bill Toomey, director of the Conservancy's Forest Health Protection Program. 'Preventing the introduction of new invaders is more successful and much more cost-effective than trying to manage them once they have become established. This new regulation stands to stop problems before they even start.'
Two years ago, APHIS reported that new pest introductions were being detected at a rate of one every twelve days. Some of these pests threaten America's trees, adding to the burden of the approximately 500 pests that are already established in the United States. Of the 25 extremely damaging pests introduced since the mid-1800s, eighteen are believed to have arrived on imported plants — including sudden oak death, the citrus longhorned beetle, chestnut blight, hemlock woolly adelgid, and the South American cactus moth.
'We hope APHIS uses this new authority to proactively identify new pest and host combinations and plant species that pose a risk of being invasive and include them in the NAPPRA list,' said Doria Gordon, director of Conservation Science for the Conservancy in Florida. 'That list should continue to evolve with changing trade patterns and introduction of new species into commerce.'
In 2007, an APHIS report documented that the number of imported plants doubled between 1999 and 2005. While the vast majority of the species involved are not invasive, the small percentage of invaders, perhaps one percent of those imported, are estimated to cost the United States over $34 billion annually in lost productivity and control efforts. For example, two species of tropical Pacific mangroves, imported for ornamental purposes, were discovered invading the native mangrove communities in Florida's Miami-Dade County in 2009. Immediate control efforts may be successful in controlling these species in the 15 acres of invaded mangroves, but most invasions are not detected at such an early stage.
Each region of the United States faces its own unique combination of threats. For instance;
- California spends over $84 million on controlling invasive plants like giant reed, yellow star thistle, water hyacinth, and Cape ivy annually.
- In Hawaii, just one escaped ornamental species called velvet tree (or miconia) has cost several billion dollars in control efforts, native species losses, and increases in soil erosion and runoff.
- Over $240 million was spent by public agencies to control invasive plants in Florida between 1980 and 2002, and costs have only increased since then. Ninety percent of these invaders were imported purposely for horticulture, forage, or erosion control.
'Designating NAPPRA species is a critical first step and we strongly support this new regulation,' said Faith Campbell senior policy representative for the Conservancy. 'At the same time, APHIS should take additional steps to reduce further the risk of future pest introductions. We anticipate working with APHIS as it develops regulations that will require foreign plant suppliers to implement procedures to minimize pest presence on plants shipped to the United States. Finally, we urge the Administration and Congress to provide the necessary funding and resources to USDA-APHIS and other agencies, to allow them to carrying out the prevention activities to stop these invasive plants and pests even before they reach our borders,' added Campbell.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit us on the Web at www.nature.org.
SOURCE The Nature Conservancy