WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - Apr 8, 2013) - April is "Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month" and the start of a particularly vulnerable time for America's agriculture, as a surge in outdoor activity increases the spread of invasive species. In preparation, the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) has announced "Seven Simple Steps" to leave invasive pests -- non-native insects, other animals, plants and diseases that feed on America's crops, trees and plants -- behind. The USDA has also expanded its national "watch list" to include 15 of the most damaging "Hungry Pests" that people can accidentally bring into and move within the United States.
Hungry pests can have a tremendous impact on our economy, environment and public health, and people unknowingly spread these invasive species on things they move and pack. During the spring and summer months, popular recreational activities such as hiking, gardening and international travel can increase the transfer of items that harbor pests. People can help prevent their spread by following the USDA's "Seven Ways to Leave Hungry Pests Behind," which are:
1. Buy Local, Burn Local. Invasive pests and their larvae can hide and ride long distances in firewood. Don't give them a free ride -- buy firewood where you burn it. If you must move firewood, make sure it has been heat-treated.
2. Plant Carefully. Buy your plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species at all costs.
3. Don't Bring or Mail fresh fruits, plants, vegetables, or any food or agricultural items into or out of your state unless agricultural inspectors have cleared them beforehand. Consult with USDA on import requirements to move agricultural equipment into the U.S. Get answers from your local USDA office; find contact information by state at HungryPests.com.
4. Cooperate with Quarantines by observing agricultural restrictions and allowing authorized agricultural workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.
5. Keep It Clean. Wash outdoor gear and tires so they're free of soil before leaving fishing, hunting or camping trips. Check vehicles for egg masses and other signs of insects. Clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items when moving.
6. Learn to Identify. Report signs of an invasive pest or disease at HungryPests.com.
7. Speak Up. Declare all agricultural items to customs officials when returning from international travel. Visit USDA's international travel Web site at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/travel for guidelines on what you can bring in and phone numbers to call if you have questions.
"A few simple steps can go a long way in protecting America's trees, crops and plants," said Scott Pfister, Director of Pest Management for USDA-APHIS. "These Hungry Pests have caused billions of dollars of damage already. They threaten to disrupt our ecosystems and food supply, and if left unchecked could even wipe out some species of plants and trees."
The USDA has added two new pests to the Hungry Pests target list and they each tell a cautionary tale. Imported fire ants are a triple invasive pest threat, harming the economy, environment and human health. Economically, they damage crops, disrupt field workers and trigger the establishment of quarantines. Environmentally, they displace native ant species and reduce food sources for wildlife. As for human health, these ants respond aggressively to disturbances, clamping onto victims and stinging repeatedly while injecting painful venom similar to a bee's.
The tiny Khapra beetle is a significant threat to stored grains, spices, animal products, and packaged and dried foods. It is not now established in the United States, but if it were to find its way into our crops, the impacts would be significant -- grain losses and the high cost of eradication could drive up food prices. Agriculture inspectors have intercepted an increasing number of these beetles in passenger baggage and commercial cargo. Previous U.S. detections of Khapra beetle have required massive, long-term, and costly control and eradication efforts.
These two species join a list that includes four moths (European grapevine moth, false codling moth, gypsy moth and light brown apple moth), three flies (Mediterranean fruit fly, Mexican fruit fly and Oriental fruit fly), two beetles (Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer), two diseases (sudden oak death, citrus greening), as well as the giant African snail and Asian citrus psyllid. To learn more, go to HungryPests.com or join the conversation on Facebook (www.facebook.com/hungrypests).
About the USDA-APHIS: The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is a multifaceted federal agency with a broad mission area that includes protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. These efforts support the overall mission of USDA, which is to protect and promote food, agriculture, natural resources and related issues. Visit the APHIS website at www.aphis.usda.gov.