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Ag Leaders, Scientists Set Priorities to Prevent Invasive Pest Threats to the Environment and Economy

By Jeannette E. Warnert

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.”


Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, which co-sponsored the summit, outlined the goals.

“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.”

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