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Boston Beats the Asian Longhorned Beetle

Retiring APHIS State Plant Health Director for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island Patty Douglass inspects ALB damaged wood in Massachusetts.

Retiring APHIS State Plant Health Director for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island Patty Douglass inspects ALB damaged wood in Massachusetts.

One of the things I consider a highlight of my career and that I will always remember is our successful response to the July 2010 detection of the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) in Boston, Massachusetts.  As I attended the May 12 ceremony commemorating the eradication of the ALB infestation in Boston and listened to the speakers share their thoughts about what it took to get us there, I had a deep sense of appreciation for the partnership among the state and federal cooperators who worked together to bring us to that day.  It was swift action and continued diligence that protected Boston’s trees from further destruction.

APHIS and its cooperators were able to accomplish the goal of eradicating ALB in Boston in less than 4 years.  Thanks also go to a community member who reported the infestation early.  That early detection and report resulted in the loss of only 6 infested trees.

But as I celebrate our first victory over the invasive pest in Massachusetts, I am compelled to ask you to remain vigilant in inspecting your trees regularly for signs of the beetle and report any suspicious damage to your State Plant Health Director. Read more »

APHIS Geneticist Finds New Way to Track Invasive Pythons

Can you find the snake? A Burmese python peeks out from its hiding place in Florida. APHIS Wildlife Services experts are developing new tools to help track and remove this invasive species. Photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service

Can you find the snake? A Burmese python peeks out from its hiding place in Florida. APHIS Wildlife Services experts are developing new tools to help track and remove this invasive species. Photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service

How do you find something that doesn’t want to be found – something that has evolved to be cryptic, elusive, and stealthy?  That is the question asked of APHIS geneticist Dr. Antoinette Piaggio. She and others at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) – the research arm of the APHIS Wildlife Services program – are investigating new ways to track and locate invasive Burmese pythons.

Burmese pythons have made a home in Florida competing with and feeding on native wildlife. Experts agree that new tools and techniques are crucial to monitoring and controlling the spread of this elusive snake.

“Burmese pythons are semi-aquatic and can be very hard to detect given their elusive nature and cryptic coloration,” states Piaggio. “We’ve developed a new detection method that uses environmental DNA, thereby eliminating the need for seeing or handling snakes.” Read more »

American Farmers Benefit from APHIS Bird Repellent Research

A captive horned lark is offered lettuce seedlings treated with a bird repellent. Photo by USDA Wildlife Services

A captive horned lark is offered lettuce seedlings treated with a bird repellent. Photo by USDA Wildlife Services

California is the “bread basket” of American agriculture. In 2012, California’s 80,500 farms and ranches produced a record $44.7 billion in produce, dairy, and meats. With more than 400 crop varieties grown in the State, California produces nearly half of all U.S. grown fruits, nuts and vegetables.

To help ensure this basket stays full, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) partners with APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) to address wildlife damage issues to agriculture. Some of the more recent work involves the development of repellents to protect crops from birds. Read more »

Why Research is Vital for Eradicating the Asian Longhorned Beetle

At the APHIS Otis Lab in Massachusetts, employees conduct research for several APHIS forest pest emergency response and eradication programs, including Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), Asian gypsy moth (AGM), emerald ash borer (EAB), and Sirex noctilio woodwasp.

At the APHIS Otis Lab in Massachusetts, employees conduct research for several APHIS forest pest emergency response and eradication programs, including Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), Asian gypsy moth (AGM), emerald ash borer (EAB), and Sirex noctilio woodwasp.

In addition to the existing science-based eradication protocols for fighting an Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) infestation, such as surveying trees and removing infested ones, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) relies on on-going research to not only improve current protocols, but also to develop new ones.

APHIS’s Center for Plant Health Science and Technology continues research to develop attractant-baited traps designed to lure and capture adult insects. The attractants include plant odors and pheromones, which are naturally occurring chemicals created and used by insects to communicate with each other.  These attractants are used to lure beetles to traps that are hung on trees that the beetle will attack.  Traps can aid in early detection of insects in areas where survey staff may not be working. When the traps are checked by staff members and a beetle is found, nearby trees may be surveyed to determine if they are infested. This year, the traps will be placed in the spring and early summer in strategic locations in all three ALB-affected states: New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio.  APHIS is also working with the U.S. Forest Service and Penn State University on their research with similar ALB traps. Read more »

We Can’t Barbecue Our Way Out: Why Feral Swine Management Requires a National Approach

Invasive feral swine have spread rapidly across the United States as a result of natural range expansion, illegal trapping and movement by people, and escapes from domestic swine operations and hunting preserves.

Invasive feral swine have spread rapidly across the United States as a result of natural range expansion, illegal trapping and movement by people, and escapes from domestic swine operations and hunting preserves.

Wild boar, razorback, feral hog, wild pig — these are just some of the names we attribute to one of the most destructive and formidable invasive species in the United States. Feral swine adapt to just about any habitat, have few natural enemies, and reproduce at high rates. As such, their population is growing rapidly nationwide. At 5 million animals and counting, feral swine are now found in at least 39 States and cause approximately $1.5 billion in damages and control costs each year. Their damage is diverse and includes destroying native habitats and crops, eating endangered species, and spreading disease. Natural resource managers, researchers and academics nationwide are grappling with how best to address the challenges of feral swine management.

Feral swine are hunted by the public in some States for recreational purposes; but hunting will not solve our country’s feral swine problems. Read more »

USDA’s National Centers for Animal Health Makes an Impact on Agriculture

Under Secretary Avalos is shown buildings of the south campus by Dr. Elizabeth Lautner

Under Secretary Avalos is shown buildings of the south campus by Dr. Elizabeth Lautner

In February, I had the opportunity to visit USDA’s National Centers for Animal Health in Ames, Iowa. This campus hosts employees from both APHIS and ARS, who work together with tremendous collaboration.  ARS employees conduct research on diseases of economic importance to the U.S. livestock and poultry industries. APHIS employees work to protect and improve the health, quality, and marketability of our nation’s animals, animal products, and veterinary biologics.

Their critical work in research, biologics, diagnostics, training, and coordination with stakeholders is impressive. It is a true science center where the work is intricate, precise, and timely. The scientific research conducted on the campus supports policy decisions, sets international standards and assures the country and the world that U.S. livestock and livestock products are safe for consumers. Read more »