Risky Business: Pest Task Force Protects Forests

A forest, like many places on earth, is an ecosystem that is kept in check by its various constituents. Trees, plants, and animals work together, each playing a role in their common home to ensure that the forest is healthy and productive. When organisms from outside the forest are allowed to enter however — for example, an invasive insect — the balance can be upset and the health of the forest, and its trees, placed in jeopardy.

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The Emerald Ash Borer is just one invasive pest endangering our Nation’s forests.

Because of this ever-present danger, there exists a major Forest Service research program to identify and contain pests that could invade the United States. The team, whose main charge is performing risk assessments of imported pests to the United States, represents many disciplines, and has included researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

Working with colleagues in other countries, the team identifies potential pests, evaluates their threat to the United States, and explores methods of mitigating the threats they pose. Without this scientific oversight, invasive pests can become a real problem for our most treasured resource — forests.

One historic example of such a threat developing into a serious problem was the importation of the Asian longhorn beetle on wood pallets. The beetle is native to China, Japan and Korea but was discovered in America in the late 1990s. With no known natural enemy in the United States, the beetle swept across the nation, and destroyed thousands of trees until researchers devised a massive clear-cutting operation in infested areas to contain it.

Another pest that researchers are intimately familiar with is Lymantria dispar, the gypsy moth, one of North America’s most devastating forest pests. The species originally evolved in Europe and Asia but was accidentally introduced near Boston in the late 1800s. For more than 100 years, the moth has defoliated acre after acre of forest from New England westward, while at the same time, invasive pests found in the great lakes region, like the emerald ash borer, have continually expanded from Midwestern states like Michigan.

Both of these will continue to test the skills of researchers, who are hard at work developing effective control measures and furthering our understanding about the life cycles of these insects.

In 1910, when FPL had just opened, there was little understanding about the pests that destroy wood. Consequently, few control methods and treatments existed. Because of the hard work researchers do every day, understanding of wood-destroying pests over the last century has greatly improved, along with effective lures, treatments, and control procedures.

It is a battle worth fighting, and although this team of researchers has their work cut out for them as they continue to asses and develop strategies to combat pests, the fate of our forests rest on their hard work, as the Forest Service realizes its mission of Caring for the Land and Serving People.