Forest Health and Invasive Species

Written by Faith Campbell with Center for Invasive Species Prevention.

American forests are under siege from introduced insects and disease-causing pathogens. Already close to 100 of these invasive species are causing serious damage to our urban, rural, and wildland forests. Indeed, the 15 most damaging threaten at least 40% of the total live forest biomass in the 48 conterminous states and their carbon-sequestration capacities.

Hardwood trees decimated by introduced pests include chestnuts, elms, oaks, beech, and ashes. Hard-hit conifers include hemlocks, firs, and five-needle pines. Unique ecosystems and biomes have been destroyed, with cascading impacts on other species. The best known examples are high elevation whitebark and limber pine forests in the West. Dozens of species – birds, salamanders, cold-water fish, and shade-loving plants – have lost their habitats with the death of Fraser fir and eastern hemlocks in the Appalachians.

While these established pests continue to spread and wreak havoc, new pests continue to be introduced despite existing plant health programs. The agency with primary responsibility for preventing introductions is the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The USDA Forest Service leads efforts to reduce the impacts of widespread invasive forest pests.

Effective programs to manage introduced forest pests must be guided by three principles:

  1. Robust federal leadership, reflecting Constitutional primacy in managing imports and interstate trade and ensuring consistency across state lines.
  2. Institutional and financial commitments over the long-term. This means stable funding; expert staff; adequate facilities; and engagement by non-governmental players and stakeholders.
  3. Measuring programs’ outcomes rather than effort.

Scientists call for strengthening international trade policies and phytosanitary standards to curtail introductions. These policies must be supported by enhanced enforcement and early detection tools and reliable funding for strategic rapid responses to newly detected incursions.

To reduce impacts of pests established on the continent, they recommend increasing and stabilizing funding for classical biocontrol, research into technologies such as sterile-insect release and gene drive, and host resistance breeding.

Send a letter to your representative and senators to ask for cosponsorship of the Invasive Species Prevention and Forest Restoration Act (H.R. 1389. Take Action →

A bill now in Congress – H.R. 1389 – would help overcome obstacles arising from inconsistent priorities and inadequate resources. In summary, this bill will:

  • Expand USDA APHIS’ access to emergency funds to eradicate or contain pest outbreaks.
  • Establish a grant program to fund research into strategies aimed at restoring tree species, including biological control of pests and enhancement of tree hosts’ pest resistance.
  • Establish a grant program to support application of resistance breeding and other measures to restore forest tree species that have been decimated by non-native plant pests or noxious weeds.
  • Mandate a study to identify actions to overcome the low priority assigned these programs by  agency leaderships; identify agencies’ expertise and resources; improve coordination among agencies and with partners; and develop national strategies for saving tree species.

H.R. 1389 was sponsored by Rep. Peter Welch [VT]. Cosponsors as of February 2022 are Reps. Ann. Kuster and Chris Pappas [NH], Elise Stefanik and Antonio Delgado [NY], Brian Fitzpatrick [PA], Mike Thompson [CA], Deborah Ross [NC], Chellie Pingree [ME].

Take a moment to fill out a form and send a letter to your representative and senators to ask for cosponsorship of the Invasive Species Prevention and Forest Restoration Act (H.R. 1389)

See more from NAISMA Government Relations.