Threats to the BLM Sagebrush Biome: Cheatgrass and Conifers; Cheatgrass and Fire in the Mohave Desert

The proposed BLM Public Lands Rule regulation included two citations to papers.  I decided to take a look at them and see what helpful info I could glean from them. They are both DOI (USGS) products.


The first one is called “A Sagebrush Conservation Design to Proactively Restore America’s Sagebrush Biome,”  with a bunch of authors and prepared in cooperation with WAFWA and the USFWS. I’m assuming it’s a bird-o-centric view. Still, they are talking about ecological integrity.

These ongoing and anticipated losses in areas of high ecological integrity have been driven primarily by the incursions of invasive annual grasses across the three ecoregions (fig. 12). By 2020 (the final year examined), more areas were moderately or highly threatened by invasive annual grasses than in any year prior, including more than one-half of the Southern Great Basin region. A sudden increase relative to 2016 (the penultimate year examined) was particularly pronounced in the Great Plains region, although none of this region had been deemed high risk. The threat of conifer expansion into the no to low category showed an increase compared with that of 2001; however, expansion into this category held steady from 2016 to 2020, especially in the Intermountain West and Southern Great Basin regions. The team also documented infill of conifer stands, showing an increase in the areas classified as high or very high risk, especially in the Intermountain West region. The footprint of human modification remained relatively constant over time within regions, but the footprints varied considerably across regions—for example, more than 90 percent of the Southern Great Basin region remained at no to low risk by 2020 compared with only 60 percent of the Great Plains region remaining at this level.

From the summary:

Given the number of threats, the scale at which they operate, and the dispersed authority and responsibility to regulate and address threats, this effort may take an almost unprecedented degree of cooperation and collaboration, a bold vision, and ambitious goal setting. To date, substantial investments in collaborative efforts to remove conifers expanding into sagebrush plant communities by Oregon’s SageCon partnership, the Sage-Grouse Initiative, and the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative have matched the rate of loss to conifer expansion within the Great Basin (Reinhardt and others, 2020).
The results in this study indicate that a similar focus could allocate limited conservation resources to where and when they have the highest probability of achieving desired uplift, which the design can inform.


From this paper, a person could develop a regulation that would

  1.  Encourage collaborative work with other agencies and local collaboratives to reduce impacts. States and Tribes are important partners, involved in the development of any regulation (not at the comment period).

2. Since  invasives are a big problem, drawing a line around an area and keeping people out is unlikely to move towards ecological integrity. Same with those pesky conifers.

3. Invasives also change wildfire frequency, and  different grazing techniques can be used to reduce fire danger.

It’s hard for me to see that mapping “intactness” which doesn’t take into account the threat of invasives, determining what is “land health” for other activities, or conservation leasing will help with any of these problems. On the other hand, if you want to keep people out and let whatever happen, that’s fine too, but it’s not promoting biodiversity, natural range of variation nor probably carbon.




A Joshua Tree is seen as the York fire burns in the distance in the Mojave National Preserve on July 30, 2023.
(David Swanson/
AFP via Getty Images)

We’ve seen a bit of this with the current fire in the Mojave National Preserve, burning up Joshua Trees.

Interesting story on a fire in the Mojave National Preserve and the Joshua Trees from the LAist.

More than 77,000 acres of desert landscape have burned over the past few days in the York Fire, the largest on record for the Mojave National Preserve, as high temperatures and strong winds drove flames across the border into Nevada on Sunday.

Flames up to 20 feet tall have been spotted as the fire has torn through mixed desert scrub, yucca, pinyon juniper, and invasive plants like red brome, all of which saw a lot of growth during the recent wet winter.

“I was just driving through that area a week or two before the York Fire and thought ‘This place is going to burn.’ There’s just fuel everywhere,” said Debra Hughson, deputy superintendent of the preserve.

Fires like this have long been rare in Mojave desert ecosystems, with some estimates putting the fire return interval at every couple hundred years. Now, they’re becoming a feature of the landscape, increasing in frequency and jeopardizing the recovery of native species, including Joshua trees. Just a few years ago, the nearby Dome Fire burned more than 40,000 acres and destroyed more than 1 million of the famous trees.

“Fires this big are really a game changer in the desert,” said Todd Esque, research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The role invasive species are playing

Invasive species including red brome, cheatgrass and Sahara mustard are helping drive the new fire regime. The weeds thrive in the desert environment, filling in the space between Joshua trees, carrying the fire from one tree to the next. And after fire clears things out, the invasive species quickly move back in.

“They burn every 10 years, which happens in some places where there’s Joshua trees now, because of weeds…now it’s just a straw-colored two dimensional landscape of rolling hills,” Esque said.

A pullback on grazing in this area of the Mojave has led to an increase in the growth of native vegetation as well, with grasses like big galleta also carrying fire.

Joshua trees aren’t really all that adapted to withstand fire. They can re-sprout from their roots after burning, but that’s not always the case if the fire’s too intense.

Even if they do pop back up, their growth rate of roughly three centimeters per year is quite slow, meaning the landscapes we’ve long grown fond of are likely not coming back, at least in our lifetimes. They could take more than a century to repopulate — assuming they do at all. That’s because hotter temperatures and longer droughts, punctuated by frequent fires in the era of climate change, make regrowth more difficult.

The fire is also burning through critical habitat for the desert tortoise, which is listed as a threatened species.


Happy Holidays from APHIS! Another Opportunity to Comment on the Deregulation of Genetically Engineered American Chestnut

Happy Holidays from APHIS!

Sadly I couldn’t find an American Chestnut holiday wreath photo to illustrate this post.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is inviting public comment on two draft documents involving a petition from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY) seeking deregulation of an American chestnut variety modified for tolerance to chestnut blight. The first document is a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that examines the potential environmental impacts, and the second is a draft Plant Pest Risk Assessment (DPPRA) that considers potential plants pest risks.

APHIS is now seeking public comments on the DEIS and DPPRA for 45 days so the public may review our preliminary evaluation of potential impacts on the environment in consideration of the SUNY petition. You can view the Federal Register noticeDEISDPPRA, and supporting documents on the APHIS website. Beginning November 10, 2022, members of the public can submit comments through December 27, 2022, by going to and entering “APHIS-2020-0030” into the Search field.

History of Nursery Introductions and Plant Quarantine Laws

Faith Campbell wrote a fascinating history of the nursery trade here.

The earliest commercial horticulture in colonies that became the United States was in the mid-17th Century. It involved imports of Eurasian fruit trees to establish orchards to provide familiar foods. Ornamental horticulture became popular earlier than I expected. Prince Nurseries was established in 1732 in Flushing, NY. It was followed by additional nurseries in New York, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts.

According to this paper by Sandra Anagnostakis of the Connecticut Ag Experiment Station:

The chestnut blight fungus was accidentally introduced into the U.S. on Japanese chestnut trees imported at the end of the 1800s. It was spread all over the range of our native chestnut trees by “mail order” as people bought chestnut trees from nurseries, and was spread locally by every creature that walked over the cankers. This led to the enactment of Plant Quarantine laws in the United States.

It’s always puzzling to me that the importance of plant quarantine regulations (and packaging)  gets lost or downplayed in our discussions of threats to forests and their ability to sequester carbon.

Labor Day.. Climate Change Causes Invasives? and Research on Getting People Not to Move Firewood

You might have read this report from UPIs Science News that interestingly attributes tree problems from invasive insects and disease to… climate change.

The researchers point to climate change for the rise in threatened trees saying trees stressed by drought, wildfire, pollution, floods or other extreme conditions open the door for invasive insects or fungi.

Not surprisingly, though, many scientists feel that more invasives are actually caused by lack of appropriate regulation of international trade.

Important measures have been taken to prevent PIP introductions, and while vital, these efforts are insufficient. For perspective, the number of containers (20-foot equivalent units) entering the U.S. annually through 63 ports increased from just over 11 million in 2000 to well over 22 million in 2017 (Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration). Approximately 75% of containers used in maritime trade include wood packaging, a well-known source of invaders (Meissner et al., 2009). The opportunity for biological invasions is constant and the threat overwhelming, even at our most regulated ports

One direct approach is to “not move firewood”. Many thanks to Faith Campbell for this timely post! Excerpt below, entire post can be found here.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Clemson University have analyzed how to persuade people not to move firewood – and the tree pests that can accompany it. (Full citation at the end of this blog) Their study is based on five surveys conducted by TNC between 2005 and 2016. These surveys guided TNC’s “Don’t Move Firewood” campaign and its outreach efforts since the beginning in 2008

As Solano et al. note, wood-boring pests continue to enter the country and spread, causing immense damage. Firewood transport by campers is a significant contributor to that spread. Millions of individuals decide whether to move firewood. Yet the scientific literature is quite limited regarding their behavior and TNC’s survey data has never been published.

The patchwork of state and federal quarantines is largely reactive and has failed to prevent continuing spread. The regulatory regime has been further fragmented by APHIS’ deregulation of the emerald ash borer.  As a consequence, limiting the spread of pests depends even more on educating campers to behave responsibly – voluntarily.

The TNC’s surveys each focused on different geographic areas and asked different questions in each. So their compilation cannot show trends in awareness or other measures. Nevertheless, the authors find:

  • Most people in the United States don’t know firewood can harbor invasive forest insects and diseases, but when targeted by effective education they can learn and are likely to change their behavior.

  • The two best ways to reach the public is through emails confirming campsite reservations and flyers handed out at parks. Web-based information seemed less effective. However, most of the surveys were done before 2011, the year when 50% of adults reported using internet media.

  • Forestry-related public agencies (especially state forestry departments) are the most trusted sources of information about forest health issues.

  • It works better to “push” information, not expect people to seek it on their own.

  • Messages should focus on encouraging the public to make better choices, including how they, themselves, will benefit. Positive, empowering calls to action, like “Buy it Where You Burn It” or “Buy Local, Burn Local” are better than negative messages, such as “Don’t Move Firewood”.

  • People respond to messages that emphasize protecting forest resources, e.g., ecosystem services like clean water. They response less to messages about forest threats.

Hungerford Lake Recreation Area at Equestrian Campground. Original public domain image from Flickr

Solano et al. describe the ways that different socioeconomic groups differ in their awareness of forest pests and in how they respond to various statements about forests, pests, and messengers. The focus is on how to overcome four psychological barriers to changing behavior that had been identified in a study of climate change. In the firewood context, those barriers were: 1) lack of awareness; 2) mistrust and negative reactions to the messengers; 3) habit; and 4) social comparison, norms, conformity, and perceived poor quality of purchased firewood.

From this work, the authors suggested further work::

  • Development of education and outreach programs that target those with lower education levels, since, on average, ~60% of people who camp did not graduate from college. Further research is probably needed to identify the most effective messengers and messages.

  • While 80% of the survey respondents were over 40, the proportion of campers made up of Gen X and millennials is increasing. Managers need to improve outreach for younger audiences. This includes engaging the messengers they trust: scientists, environmentalist politicians, peer networks, and social media.

  • While women trust the USDA Forest Service and conservation organizations, 55% of campers in a given year are men. Further research is needed to clarify the most effective messengers and messages for men. The outreach agencies should select the messengers that both sexes trust.

  • Levels of awareness should be assessed both before and after implementing new educational strategies so that the strategies’ effectiveness can be determined.

Emerald Ash Borer Sighted in Oregon: Be on the Lookout!

Altenhoff said there are a fair number of ash trees in city parking lots and parks.
Courtesy of Oregon Department Of Forestry

I know many TSW-ites are from the Northwest so here goes:

Destructive forest pest, the emerald ash borer, arrives in Oregon; public asked to report sightings

FOREST GROVE, Ore – On June 30, Dominic Maze, an invasive species biologist for the City of Portland, was waiting outside a summer camp in Forest Grove to pick up his children when he noticed several ash trees in decline.

When he took a closer look, he recognized the distinctive D-shaped holes made by adult emerald ash borers, an invasive and destructive pest, as they exit an infested tree.

“When my kids arrived, I asked them to look for adult beetles,” said Maze. “My son promptly found one crawling on him. Knowing how many millions of ash trees across the country these beetles have killed, I felt like I was going to throw up.”

Maze’s discovery of EAB in a parking lot in Forest Grove is the first known sighting on the West Coast. Maze was familiar with EAB and signs of it in ash trees through educational materials federal and state agencies have been providing to Portland and other Oregon cities. He immediately called the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Forest Health Unit to report the EAB sighting.

ODF Forest Entomologist Christine Buhl drove to the site that same day and identified an adult EAB, known for their metallic, shiny green color. She then alerted the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Her identification was verified later by two additional invasive species specialists – Max Ragozzino with ODA and Wyatt Williams with ODF.

State officials are asking the public to learn what an emerald ash borer looks like and to report any sightings online at the Oregon Invasive Species Council hotline. This will help the state know how far and how fast this destructive insect is spreading in Oregon.

EAB is native to eastern Asia and has spread to about three dozen states since its first detection in Michigan two decades ago. EAB is now considered the most destructive forest pest in North America. Although harmless to people, pets, and animals, it has proven deadly to all ash species in North American and Europe, including the native Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia). EAB can also infest American fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) and European olive trees.

The infested ash trees in Forest Grove were cut down and chipped within 48 hours of discovery. ODF and ODA are now working closely with industry partners, including urban foresters and nursery producers, to provide information and resources as Oregon launches a response to the discovery of EAB.

Faith Campbell has an extensive blog posts on the pre-work that has been done, and is continuing, on EAB in Oregon here.

Here are some photos from her post.

nearly pure stand of Oregon ash in Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon; photo by Wyatt Williams, Oregon Department of Forestry

What You Can Do About Invasive Species Affecting Forests: Guest Post by Faith Campbell

These folks and USDA hold the keys to successful protection of US forests from introduced pests


You’ll note that many of these involve contacting state and federal governments and legislators. I’ve noticed that many ENGOs and other organizations make that easy to do by clicking on links and filling out forms.  If someone wanted  to make a serious impact on this problem, (if you were a foundation) you could set up such a thing for what Faith is asking.  It’s a bit puzzling to me why this used to be an issue of interest to ENGOs but not so much anymore.  “Dead trees sequester no carbon” and all that. And if we’re depending on forests as “natural climate solutions” seems like potential tree-killers would be a big piece of the puzzle.  After all, the biggest forest/wildlife/human culture disruption in US history was the Chestnut blight.


My two previous blogs outlined the risk to U.S. forests from introduced insects and pathogens and the principal pathways of introduction: crates, pallets & other forms of packaging made of wood; and woody plants – imported usually for the ornamental horticulture market. I also addressed the need to reduce the damage caused by the hundreds of pests already established in the country.

I believe effective programs to manage introduced insects and pathogens must be guided by three principles:

1) Robust federal leadership is crucial:

  1. The Constitution gives primacy to federal agencies in managing imports and interstate trade.
  2. Only a consistent approach can protect trees (and other plants) from non-native pests that spread across state lines.
  3. Even after decades of budget and staff cuts, Federal agencies still have more resources than state agencies individually or in any probable collective efforts.

2) Success depends on a continuing, long-term effort founded on institutional and financial commitments commensurate with the scale of the threat. This requires stable funding; guidance by research findings and expert staff; and engagement by non-governmental players and stakeholders. However, funding has been neither adequate nor stable.

3) Programs’ effectiveness needs to be measured – outcomes, not just effort.

What you can do to support actions consistent with these principles

Make the case

  • Expand your efforts to educate decision-makers and conservation organizations about the threat to conservation values arising from invasive species, particularly introduced forest insects and pathogens. Sources of information include Barrett, Fei, Poland, and Quirion (cited in the earlier blogs) and Lovett et al. (2006) Forest Ecosystem Responses to Exotic Pests and Pathogens in Eastern North America. BioScience Vol. 56 No. 5 May 2006). Engage with current loose coalitions working to improve policy – such as mine!
  • Encourage scientific societies of which you are a member to engage on policy issues related to the introduction and management of introduced forest pests and pathogens and restoration of decimated tree species to the forest.
  • Familiarize yourself with the literature demonstrating that international phytosanitary agreements (World Trade Organization Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards; International Plant Protection Convention) preclude actions to prevent introduction of “unknown unknowns” (surprise pests). Consider adding your voice to advocating change.


  • Every year, review proposed funding levels of APHIS and USFS programs and urge your Member of Congress and Senators to ensure they are adequate. APHIS’ Tree and wood pest program has been appropriated $60 million for several years despite increasing number of introduced wood-borers. Only $5 million of the $300 million USFS Research and Development account has been allocated to invasive species.

Creating a coordination comprehensive program

  • Urge your Member of Congress to co-sponsor H.R. 1389. Ask your Senators to introduce a companion bill. Peter Welch (D-VT) is the lead sponsor; so far there are eight cosponsors — Thompson (CA), Pingree (ME), Kuster and Pappas (NH), Stefanik and Delgado (NY), Ross (NC), Fitzpatrick (PA). This bill would fund research into enhancing host species’ resistance to pests and planting of resulting progeny. It would also ease APHIS’ access to emergency funds. Ask them to ensure that this measure is included in the 2023 Farm Bill.
  • Read Bonello, et al., (2020) Invasive Tree Pests Devastate Ecosystems—A Proposed New Response Framework. Front. For. Glob. Change 3:2. doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2020.00002

If you think this proposal makes sense, lobby your Member of Congress and Senators to 1) support H.R. 1389 or 2) press USDA to take administrative actions to implement such a comprehensive approach.

Improve Control over Introduction Pathways

  • Urge your Member of Congress and Senators to press USDA to open APHIS data on pest detections in imported wood packaging, living plants, and other commodities and conveyances to analysis by independent scientists.
  • Urge your Member of Congress and Senators to press APHIS to apply financial penalties to importers when wood packaging accompanying their imports does not comply with regulations in effect since 2006.
  • Urge your Member of Congress and Senators to press APHIS to utilize its authority under the “Not Authorized for Importation Pending Pest Risk Assessment” (NAPPRA) program to prohibit importation of most plant species in the 150 genera of “woody” plants that North America shares with Europe or Asia.
  • Support creation and surveillance of “sentinel plant” gardens near high-risk sites in the U.S. and in our trade partners.

Strengthen Programs to Reduce the Impact of Pests Already Here

Richard Sniezko and Jennifer Koch have documented the success of resistance breeding programs when they are supported by expert staff and reliable funding, and have access to appropriate facilities. One such facility is the USFS Dorena Genetic Resource Center in Oregon.

  • Urge your Member of Congress and Senators to press USFS to expand resistance breeding programs. A starting point would be meeting with the full range of stakeholders to set priorities – probably based in part on the CAPTURE Program developed by Kevin Potter and others.
  • Support H.R. 1389 and its inclusion in the 2023 Farm Bill (see above).
  • Ask your state government to support regional consortia, g., Great Lakes Basin Forest Health Collaborative and Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation.
  • Urge your Member of Congress and Senators to ask the Government Accountability Office or Congressional Research Service to analyze strategies for curtailing spread of pests within the country (the current patchwork of APHIS and state regulations and voluntary programs is not effective).

A Round-Up of Current Pest Threats to Conifers: Guest Post by Faith Campbell

Dead Port-Orford cedars in Redwoods National Park; photo by Richard Sniezko, USFS



dead eastern hemlocks in Linville Gorge, Pisgah NF, North Carolina; photo by Steven Norman, USFS

Many thanks to Faith Campbell for these guest posts!


As I pointed out in my previous blog, insects and diseases (native and introduced) have decreased carbon sequestration by live trees on U.S. forest land by 12.83 teragrams carbon per year. This equals ~ 9% of the contiguous states’ total annual forest carbon sequestration. This figure is probably an under estimate (Quirion et al. 2021).

When we consider conifers, the pests currently having the greatest impact are native beetles, especially the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) and – in some years and places – southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis). Still, among the 15 high-damage introduced pests causing a tree mortality rate of 5.53 Terragrams of carbon per year above background level are six pests of conifers: red pine scale (Matsucoccus matsumura), hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae),  balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae), white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola),  green spruce aphid (Elatobium abietinum), and Port-Orford cedar root disease  (Phytophthora lateralis). Mortality of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) caused by the hemlock woolly adelgid ranks as one of the four species with the highest elevation in biomass loss as measured by FIA plot data (Fei et al. 2019).

Another study – Mech et al. (2019) – found that of 58 introduced insects attacking conifers, six are causing high impacts. These include the insects listed above plus European spruce sawfly (Gilpinia hercyniae) and larch sawfly (Pristiphora erichsonii). I add larch casebearer (Coleophora laricella) and larch canker (Lachnellula willkommii).

So clearly introduced pests have had serious impacts on conifers … and there is the potential for even wider impacts in the future.

Introduced pests attacking conifers differ from those attacking hardwoods in that the great majority of insets are in the orders Hymenoptera (i.e., sawflies) and Hemiptera (i.e., adelgids, aphids, and scales) rather than Coleoptera (Mech et al. 2019); most were introduced on imported plants rather than on wood; and most were introduced a century ago. (I will write more about introductory pathways in the next blog post.)

The few woodborers that attack conifers (introduced via wood packaging) have so far had limited impact. However, some are spreading toward areas that might be more vulnerable. For example, Orthotomicus erosus  can attack native pines and has spread from central California to Arizona.  A Eurasian woodwasp, Sirex noctilio, is widespread in the Northeast – in nine states and two provinces. So far it has caused little impact but it probably continues to spread toward the south. There is no official surveillance program so information is scant. No one knows how Sirex will affect the many North American pine species it is known to attack when it reaches regions where they are dominant. These hosts include loblolly (P. taeda) and slash pines (P. elliottii) in the Southeast and lodgepole (P. contorta) and ponderosa pines (P. ponderosa) in the West (Hajek, Haavik and Stephen 2021). Of course, reductions in carbon sequestration are not the only kinds of impacts that matter. Several of the conifers hammered by introduced pests are keystone species in unique ecosystems, so their loss has cascading effects on entire biomes or microhabitats.

The best known example is high elevation forests in the West. Many of these ecosystems have already lost whitebark (P. albicaulis) and limber pines (P. flexilis) to white pine blister rust – losses exacerbated in recent years by the mountain pine beetle. Whitebark and limber pines are considered endangered in Canada (Allison et al. 2021); whitebark pine is a candidate for listing as threatened in the U.S.  Another tree of the high-elevation forests – subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) – has also been severely damaged in some areas by the balsam woolly adelgid (BWA). There is an eastern counterpart: mature Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) on high elevation peaks of the central and southern Appalachians has been virtually eliminated by BWA. It is not yet clear whether the dense regeneration will survive or be attacked as the saplings age. Opening of the canopy has led to listing of two endemic species, a  lichen and a spider, under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Also in the Appalachians, eastern hemlocks create unique riparian communities that provide habitat for dozens of species – birds, salamanders, fish, and shade-loving plants. Loss of hemlocks to HWA  results in changes to water flows and temperatures and open the understory to new plant species.

In Southwest Oregon, half of the total basal area of western white pine (Pinus monticola), 30% of the total basal area of sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) is comprised of dead trees. This situation results from the combined attacks of WPBR and MPB. Originally trees towering more up to 200 feet high, with dbh of 30 inches, western and sugar pines provided habitat for many species, especially cavity-dwellers (Goheen and Goheen 2014).

What can you do?

Quirion et al. (2021) outline several actions that would help protect the ability of America’s forests to sequester carbon. Concerning native pests, the authors call for improved forest management – with measures tailored to particular species and environmental context. Concerning introduced insects and pathogens, Quirion et al. (2021) echo many others’ call for strengthening international trade policies and phytosanitary standards governing the principal pathways – wood packaging and imported plants. These policies must be supported by enhanced enforcement and early detection tools and strategies and reliable funding for strategic rapid responses to newly detected incursions. I will discuss this in greater detail in my next blog post.

To reduce impacts of pests established on the continent, Quirion et al. (2021) recommend increasing and stabilizing dedicated funding for classical biocontrol, research into technologies such as sterile-insect release and gene drive, and host resistance breeding.

Faith Campbell is president of the Center for Invasive Species Prevention. She has spent 30 years advocating for more effective policies to prevent introduction and spread of tree-killing insects and pathogens. She posts blogs on these issues at

Allison JD, Marcotte M, Noseworthy M and Ramsfield T (2021) Forest Biosecurity in Canada – An Integrated Multi-Agency Approach. Front. For. Glob. Change 4:700825. doi:
10.3389/ffgc.2021.700825 Frontiers in Forests and Global Change July 2021 | Volume 4 | Article 700825
Fei, S., R.S. Morin, C.M. Oswalt, and A.M. 2019. Biomass losses resulting from insect and disease invasions in United States forests. PNAS Vol. 116 No. 35 pp. 17371-17376
Goheen, E.M. and D.J. Goheen. 2014. Status of Sugar and Western White Pines on Federal Forest Lands in SW OR: Inventory Query and Natural Stand Survey Results. USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest
Region. SWOFIDSC-14-01 January 2014
Hajek, A. E., L. J. Haavik and F. M. Stephen, eds. 2021. Biology and Ecology of Sirex noctilio in No Am. FHAAST-2019-01. USDA Forest Service, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Mech,  A.M., K.A. Thomas, T.D. Marsico, D.A. Herms, C.R. Allen, M.P. Ayres, K.J. K. Gandhi, J.
Gurevitch, N.P. Havill, R.A. Hufbauer, A.M. Liebhold, K.F. Raffa, A.N. Schulz, D.R. Uden, & P.C. Tobin. 2019.  Evolutionary history predicts high-impact invasions by herbivorous insects. Ecol Evol. 2019 Nov; 9(21): 12216–12230.
Quirion BR, Domke GM, Walters BF, Lovett GM, Fargione JE, Greenwood L, Serbesoff-King K, Randall JM & Fei S (2021) P&P Disturbances Correlate With Reduced Carbon Sequestration in Forests of the Contiguous US. Front. For. Glob. Change 4:716582. [Volume 4 | Article 716582] doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2021.716582



Invasive Species Increasingly Threaten America’s Forests: Guest Post by Faith Campbell

damage to forest caused by emerald ash borer; photo by Nate Siegert, USFS
wood packaging marked with ISPM#15 stamp with a live Cerambycid larva Oregon Dept of Agriculture

For those of you who remember the Four Threats of the early 2000’s, they were fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space and unmanaged recreation.  In years since, climate change has sucked much of the air out of the policy room. We still have fire and fuels (as exacerbated by climate change), loss of open space (perhaps 30 x30?) and travel management decisions, but perhaps overwhelmed by Covid visitation.   The invasive species folks still labor on, pretty much unsung, although clearly dead trees, when live carbon-sucking ones are expected or modeled, do have an impact on climate change. Despite the importance of invasive species, somehow scientists and workers in that field seldom or never end up in the limelight.

I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight them and their work.  I asked Faith Campbell to give us an update on what’s going on and how we can help.


Non-native insects and pathogens are threatening the ecosystem services provided by America’s forests. Already, the 15 most damaging of the circa 500 introduced pests threaten at least 40% of the total live forest biomass in the 48 conterminous states and have caused an additional (i.e., above background levels) tree mortality rate of 5.53 Terragrams of carbon per year (Fei et al. 2019).
To date, hardwood trees have suffered more damage from introduced pests than have conifers. The most damaging insect invader is the emerald ash borer, which has killed tens of millions of trees and threatens a unique ecosystem, black ash swamps. If it escapes eradication efforts, the Asian longhorned beetle would cause even more damage because of its wide host range. On the west coast, oak trees are under threat by the goldspotted oak borer and possibly the Mediterranean oak borer. Introduced diseases include chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, oak wilt, and two diseases hammering beech – beech bark disease and the recently detected beech leaf disease. In the West, tanoaks and oaks are succumbing to sudden oak death; sycamores to the Fusarium disease vectored by invasive shot hole borers.

Overall, the highest elevation in biomass loss – as measured by Fei et al. (2019) using FIA plot data – was caused by emerald ash borer, Dutch elm disease, beech bark disease, and a major pest of a conifer, hemlock woolly adelgid. The spotted lanternfly might prove even more damaging to hardwood trees; its spread is extremely difficult to prevent.  The threat to carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services is almost certain to increase due to continuing introductions of additional pests. The rising impact of pests, combined with more frequent and severe fires and other forest disturbances, are likely to negate efforts to improve forests’ carbon sequestration capacity (Fei et al. 2019; Quirion et al. 2021).

Insects that attack hardwoods – especially the highly damaging wood-borers – are usually introduced via crates, pallets, and other forms of wood packaging accompanying imports. The United States regulates incoming wood packaging according to a standard agreed to by parties to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). How effective is this approach in preventing such introductions? Studies based on decade-old data have found that 1) 75% of containers used in maritime shipments contain wood packaging (Meissner et al. 2009); and 2) one out of each thousand incoming shipments containing wood packaging was infested (Haack et al. 2014). This sounds like a low risk. But in 2021, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach alone received more than 14 million TEUs (a standardized measurement of shipping containers – twenty foot equivalent). Major ports on the East coast – New York-New Jersey, Savannah, and Charleston – received another 7.9 million [data from the ports’ websites]. Calculating based on the Meissner and Haack findings results in an estimate that 15,700 insect-infested containers arrived on U.S. shores last year.

How should USDA reduce this risk? First, the lead agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) should boost its enforcement of the existing rules – which have been in place since 2006. APHIS should penalize importers whose shipments don’t comply with the standard’s requirements.

Second, APHIS should clarify the current “approach rate” of pests in wood packaging and take action – unilaterally or in collaboration with IPPC partners – to close loopholes. APHIS has taken one step on this road: it has finally agreed to allow Bob Haack and colleagues to update the earlier study, using data through 2021. We should see the results soon.

Will APHIS act then?
What about detecting pests when they first arrive? APHIS and the USFS manage significant detection surveys. Still, most detections result from citizens noting damage to their trees – usually a decade or more after the introduction occurred. APHIS and the state departments of agriculture are strengthening their collaboration with citizen science projects. However, if the agency takes no action in response to a reported pest, citizens will give up in frustration.

What You Can Do
Educate your colleagues about the impact of invasive forest pests. Educate your member of Congress and senators about the importance of pressing APHIS to use its enforcement powers to deter violations of regulations governing wood packaging accompanying imports.

Faith Campbell is president of the Center for Invasive Species Prevention. She has spent 30 years advocating for more effective policies to prevent introduction and spread of tree-killing insects and pathogens. She posts blogs on these issues at

Fei, S., R.S. Morin, C.M. Oswalt, and A.M. 2019. Biomass losses resulting from insect and disease invasions in United States forests. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. 116(35). 17371-17376. doi:10.1073/pnas.1820601116

Haack R.A., Britton K.O., Brockerhoff E.G., Cavey J.F., Garrett L.J., et al. 2014 Effectiveness of the International Phytosanitary Standard ISPM No. 15 on Reducing Wood Borer Infestation Rates in Wood Packaging Material Entering the United States. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96611. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096611

Meissner, H., A. Lemay, C. Bertone, K. Schwartzburg, L. Ferguson, and L. Newton. 2009. EVALUATION OF PATHWAYS FOR EXOTIC PLANT PEST MOVEMENT INTO AND WITHIN THE GREATER CARIBBEAN REGION. Caribbean Invasive Species Working Group (CISWG) and Plant Epidemiology and Risk Analysis Laboratory (PERAL) / CPHST. June 4, 2009

Quirion BR, Domke GM, Walters BF, Lovett GM, Fargione JE, Greenwood L, Serbesoff-King K, Randall JM & Fei S (2021) P&P Disturbances Correlate With Reduced Carbon Sequestration in Forests of the Contiguous US. Front. For. Glob. Change 4:716582. [Volume 4 | Article 716582] doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2021.716582

For an extensive overview of invasive species’ impacts in American forests, see Poland, T.M., Patel-Weynand, T., Finch, D., Miniat, C. F., and Lopez, V. (Eds) (2019), Invasive Species in Forests and Grasslands of the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the United States Forest Sector. Springer Verlag. Available for download at no cost at

A study focused on the West: Barrett, T.M. and G.C. Robertson, Editors. 2021. Disturbance and Sustainability in Forests of the Western United States. USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-992. March 2021

How to get rid of non-native fish in wilderness

Utah Division of Wildlife

Since we had such fun discussing use of chainsaws in wilderness and eliminating wolves from wilderness, here’s another example of challenges to managing under the Wilderness Act. The Lolo National Forest is seeking comments on the North Fork Blackfoot River Native Fish Restoration Project which is located in the Scapegoat Wilderness.  They have prepared an Environmental Assessment.

The project would authorize Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to implement fish management and stocking actions within the wilderness that would establish a secure population of native trout, replacing an existing hybrid population.

To restore and secure this population, the project proposes the following actions; application of a piscicide, rotenone, to eradicate the non-native fish species; use of motorized equipment such as a boat motor, generator, and a helicopter to transport equipment, supplies, and fish for stocking; temporary development of structures or installations; and use of chemicals (pesticides or herbicides). Additionally, public access in the area would be closed for 7-10 days during the late summer of 2021 to reduce user conflicts with management actions.

The Forest Service has assessed the suitability of the proposed activities in the Scapegoat Wilderness through a process called a “minimum requirements analysis.” This is a process used to identify, analyze, and recommend management actions that are the minimum necessary for wilderness administration, as directed by the Wilderness Act of 1964.

From the linked article:

Opponents challenged the plan’s use of motorized equipment in a federal wilderness area where such machinery is typically prohibited, the idea of stocking otherwise fishless waters in wilderness, use of fish poison and the potential of harming non-target fish in the area.

There doesn’t seem to be much disagreement with the project purpose, but resistance to how they would do it.  The exception where “mechanical transport” and “structure or installation” would be allowed by the Wilderness Act is:  “except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act.”  It seems like their argument that they need motorized access is weak (see photo), but if chemicals are the only way to remove the non-native species, should they not do it?

Then there is the requirement to maintain viable populations of native species on national forests, which might for some species (maybe amphibians that evolved without fish predators) require them to do it.


Mark Twain to eliminate hunting at request of state


Of feral hogs that is.  In kind of a turnabout from typical conflicts between states and feds, this is a disagreement between the state and counties (and the hog hunting segment of the public).  (There was some discussion of federal regulation of hunting on the Kisatchie National Forest here.)

The State of Missouri is undertaking a trapping program, which they say that hunting interferes with.  The Forest Service is proposing to use its federal land management authority to issue a closure order to prohibit hunting of feral hogs on the Mark Twain National Forest.  From the Forest Service website linked to this article:

Mark Twain National Forest is proposing a Forest Closure Order to support interagency efforts to eliminate feral swine (also known as feral hogs) in Missouri. The Forest Closure Order would prevent the taking, pursuing or releasing of all feral swine on the forest. The only exception would apply to feral swine elimination efforts conducted by the interagency task force.

The proposal is in response to a Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) request to make policies consistent across all public lands in Missouri to halt the spread of feral swine and the resulting damage they cause. The State of Missouri feral swine elimination program bans all taking, pursuing or releasing of feral swine on state lands. The State asked the Forest Service and National Park Service for support as part of the Missouri Feral Hog Partnership. The proposed closure order would align lands managed by the Forest Service with the efforts of Missouri and other federal agencies, including USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

On the Kisatchie, the Forest Service used a forest plan amendment to provide long-term direction.  Here, the forest plan is not mentioned, so presumably the closure is viewed as short-term – until the hogs are gone, but from what I hear, good luck with that.

The Feral Conference and the Nativism Paradigm- Exploring Ideas About Nature

I originally became interested in the conference “Defining Nature in a Globalizing World”,  co-hosted by Massey University Political Ecology Research Centre (PERC) and Wageningen University Centre for Space, Place and Society (CSPS) because it was carbon-neutral and worldwide, for those of us with low or nonexistent travel budgets. See link here. I also really liked how respectful folks were in the comments. Here is a link to the abstracts. Here is a link to  the keynote talk by Mark Davis, of Macalester College in Minnesota.

We’ll hear more from Irus Braverman, one of the commenters,  in later posts on our site.

Davis says “History is not a directive… restoration goals are management decisions” . Sound familiar? Oh, but someone changed “historic range of variation” to “natural range of variation”- so that’s a different idea (or is it?), currently enshrined in the 2012 NFMA Planning Rule. So ideas matter and it is open to all of us to question those ideas.

Macalester talks about the “Nativism” paradigm and its current popularity in the fields of conservation biology and restoration ecology.  This is one of those talks in which values and views of scientific disciplines are teased apart.  As he says, this is an interaction between the fields of environmental philosophy, history and sociology of science, and various scientific disciplines about the definition of Nature. But each individual person gets to have our own “ideas about things”, in this case, about the nature of Nature, which are just as legitimate as anyone else’s.  These are not particularly complex ideas to grasp, nor do any particular group of scientists or philosopher have authority to determine which ideas are OK.

Here are some comments from the Davis keynote talk which may resonate with Smokey Wire concerns and issues.

Comment from Marianne Milne:

The challenges for ecologists or perhaps us all is to decide what is it that we need to do to retain biodiversity in our local spaces. I too would like to see a move away from the war on weeds/war on pests analogies but also fear loss of whole species if unbalanced ecosystems are left to their own devices. How do we manage our wild spaces? Which immigrants are tipping the scales and need active management. Which can or should be eradicated and which can we manage alongside. The context is different for each spaces and dependent on presence of species threatened with extinction. I love the idea of novel ecosystems but there is a place for preservation of unique species. So much rapid change, so much unpredictability. How do we build resilience?

Response from Mark Davis:

Hello Marian, you pose several good questions. Adopting the ecological novelty paradigm certainly does not mean that ecosystems should be left to their own devices. There is no easy answer to your question regarding how to manage our wild (or not wild) spaces. There is no ecological or divine imperative to guide us. It is up to us to decide how we want to manage the environment, which will emerge from our value systems. Do we want to manage for productivity, biodiversity, to prevent erosion, to protect a particular endangered or unique species? Our objectives will vary from site to site and ultimately will be decided in the public square. What does society value?–Mark

Davis also touches on how ideas get supported in different scientific communities, and how hard it is to break free of a paradigm once established and funded in a scientific discipline.

You all are invited to check out this conference and see what else you might find interesting, and comment below.