FAO in North America


In Focus

Trade risks spurred guide on stemming forest pests

The FAO guide released today to stem importation of forest-destroying pests responds to risks posed by increased international trade and is the result of a significant international collaboration, a U.S. specialist on the team said this week.

Not only that, but the Guide to implementation of phytosanitary standards in forestry may be the only publication on the subject whose rollout includes a rap video and one harkening back to alien-invasion movies of years past.

The publication is aimed at providing the forest sector with guidance on forest health practices to prevent introduction of pests from other parts of the world, and includes descriptions of international standards and suggestions for their implementation.

It is especially needed now because of increased use of wood packaging in international trade since the 1980s, according to Dr. Kerry Britton of the U.S. Forest Service, one of the specialists who coordinated development of the publication.

Dr. Britton, who is the agency’s national program leader for forest pathology research, said in an interview that the problem arises when pests, such as the Asian long-horned beetle – a threat to elm, maple, willow and other trees – or the emerald ash borer enter a new environment where their natural enemies are absent, and host trees have not co-evolved any resistance.  For example, she said, the pinewood nematode is relatively harmless in the United States, but has caused massive problems in Asia, where trees evolved without the pest.

In the United States, she said, wood-boring insects have increased recently. These insects are not only more damaging to forests than are other types of pests but also are more likely to be moved around in wood and wood products – especially wood packing materials.

According to Dr. Britton, with the adoption a few years ago of a standard on wood packing materials, “suddenly, foresters discovered that there was a whole international regulatory framework that actually had power over them and their business.”

The standard, she said, had an effect far beyond the trade in forest products itself,  as 70 percent of all trade involves wood packing materials.  The FAO, which provides the secretariat for the standard-setting International Plant Protection Convention,  realized more standards and regulations that could affect forestry, such as standards for wood products, handicrafts and seeds, were being developed, so they decided to ensure foresters would understand the impact of these moves and how to help prevent the spread of pests.

The effort, she said, had two goals.

“One was to make foresters aware of the potential for them to move pests if they weren’t careful, and also to understand how their business might be affected by developing regulations.”

Working with the FAO, she was part of a team of researchers and plant health specialists that the agency invited to participate in this effort – which she called a “wonderful opportunity to pull together all the expertise.”

She also noted that by working with people from various other countries, especially some whose native language was not English, the team was able to write the guide in language that makes the plant protection world “easier to understand.”

To help publicize the Guide, Dr. Britton has written and performed the world’s first forest pest rap video, which can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hubddMUlStk.

Readers more inclined toward Star Wars and Cold War-era alien films may prefer a video on the FAO site at http://www.fao.org/forestry/foresthealthguide/en/.