December's holiday season can be a significant time for spreading dangerous, invasive pests. These pests can travel across borders, continents and oceans with human assistance. They hitchhike in or on plants, produce or food brought in as gifts from friends and families. Or they can hide in or on firewood brought from another location to light a holiday fire. USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is asking the public to help safeguard the nation’s trees and plants by taking a few simple actions.
“By following a few simple steps this holiday season, consumers can help protect the food on our nation’s tables and prevent billions of dollars’ worth of damage to our country’s crops and forests,” said USDA APHIS Deputy Administrator Osama El-Lissy. “Although it’s winter, invasive pests are still at work. It doesn’t take much to stop these hungry pests from spreading, and the benefits are enormous.”
Here are some ways the public can help:
Ordering Online: Poinsettias and amaryllis make festive gifts, but be careful when ordering any plant online. To spread holiday cheer instead of invasive pests, only buy or order plants from reputable vendors that comply with federal quarantine restrictions. To be safe, ask the grower if they are aware of and abide by all USDA regulations for that particular plant.
Holiday Trees, Wreaths & Greens: When buying your holiday tree, be sure to buy them from trusted sources. Established retailers make sure their suppliers follow federal quarantine restrictions that prevent invasive pests from hitchhiking on holiday trees and decorations.
Moving Firewood: For a safe and cozy yuletide fire, buy firewood where you plan to burn it. If burning your own firewood, don’t move it off your property or you may spread invasive tree killers like the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle. Instead, buy or responsibly gather firewood near the place you’ll burn it. Or take certified, heat-treated firewood with you instead.
International Travel: Traveling abroad for the holidays? Declare all agricultural items to customs officials upon your return or you may bring back more than memories. In addition to fresh produce, declare all spices, grains and packaged foods, which could carry the destructive Khapra beetle. Visit http://www.DontPackaPest.com, a website sponsored by USDA and several partner agencies, to learn what is safe to bring back and other valuable travel tips.
International Gift-Giving: International customs are fun to keep, but be careful not to send or accept greenery, seeds, trees or plants, including citrus, across borders. Citrus greening, citrus canker and other devastating diseases are spread by the movement of infected plants. This includes items made with citrus, such as floral arrangements, wreaths, potpourri or seasonings like kaffir lime leaves. Most international items can be found in the United States, so discourage family and friends from sending them and buy them here instead.
To learn more about ways to help stop the spread of invasive pests and how to report signs of them to the proper authorities, visit http://www.HungryPests.com or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. The website includes photos and descriptions of the 19 Hungry Pests, an online tracker of federal quarantines by state, and phone numbers to report signs of invasive pests.
Source: USDA APHIS