- Associated Press - Sunday, October 30, 2016

BOW, Wash. (AP) - Invasive insects are a threat that can come from anywhere.

The insects could be transported on a young tree on its way to a nursery, they could be transported in dirt clinging to the underside of a shipping container, or they could be nestled into the wood of pallets used to ship products.

At a weigh station on Interstate 5 near Bow on Oct. 15, state and federal officials inspected a variety of semitrailers and their loads for signs of invasive insects, reported the Skagit Valley Herald (https://bit.ly/2dTgDeV).

During a three-day inspection, officials were on the lookout for European gypsy moths, but also inspected for pests such as snails, slugs, beetles and small worms called nematodes, said state Department of Agriculture pest biologist Jenni Cena.

When a semitrailer pulls into the inspection area, state Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture staffers check the grill on the front for insects that may have been caught in flight, and use mirrors and flashlights to see the underside of the truck. Sometimes they climb onto the trailer or into the shipping container to take a closer look at what is being transported.

They may spot a slug, snail, beetle, ant or insect larvae hitching a ride.

Inspectors are on alert for invasive pests - those that aren’t from the area and can damage the environment if they establish a population here.

European gypsy moths are of particular concern because they can damage trees and agricultural crops.

The moths have caused extensive damage in the eastern United States, and state and federal officials have been working for decades to prevent the species from doing the same in Washington.

“We have been monitoring and treating for gypsy moths for 40 years,” said Karla Salp, community outreach and environmental education specialist for the state Department of Agriculture.

She said tracking and killing gypsy moths is the agency’s largest invasive species project, and the work seems to have paid off, with the moths rarely seen throughout the state.

This spring, the state agency placed about 30,000 traps, and caught 25 gypsy moths, Salp said.

When gypsy moths are caught, the state agency usually treats the area around the trapping site with a pesticide, Salp said.

According to the agency’s records, 85 treatments have been done in the state since 1979, including an 8-acre area in Anacortes in 1995.

In following years, live moths have not been found in areas that have been treated, Salp said.

European gypsy moths have not been found in Skagit County since 2003.

Between 1993 and 2003, 58 of the moths were found in the county during the state’s annual trapping effort. The majority of the moths were found near the Port of Anacortes in 1993 and 1994.

Keeping an eye out for the moths remains important because the species has taken hold in other areas, including British Columbia. Products from those areas may be shipped into or through Washington.

The Washington Invasive Species Council considers the European gypsy moth a priority, meaning it is one of the invasive species posing the greatest threat to the state’s environment and economy, according to the council’s website.

Salp said she has seen the damage caused by European gypsy moths in several East Coast states. During July in some East Coast states the trees were barren, stripped of their leaves as if it were winter.

“That’s what will happen (here) if we don’t control them. That’s why we do these checks here and trapping every year,” Salp said.

Owen Shiozaki, who supervises a team under the USDA’s animal and plant health inspection service, said checking semitrailers is just one way the federal agency seeks to prevent invasive species from moving throughout the U.S.

His team also sometimes inspects plants when they arrive at nurseries, shipments from overseas and a variety of other potential avenues for invasive species.

Shiozaki said semitrailer inspections help catch a broader range of invasive insects and helps determine from where they came.

“We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. We never know what we might find with the variety of stuff coming in (on the trucks),” Shiozaki said.

State Department of Agriculture’s Cena climbed a ladder to get a closer look at lumber being transported by a Canadian trucking company. She confirmed the wood had been heat treated, which is done to kill invasive insects, she said.

The inspection is the fifth of its kind in the state this year. They are done at different locations and set to coincide with certain shipping seasons, Shiozaki said.


Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, https://www.skagitvalleyherald.com

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