written by – Nick Condos, Director, CDFA Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services
April has been designated as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month by the USDA
I’m going to tick off a list of some popular reasons why people from all over the world dream of coming to California (besides the beaches): mild weather, amazing food, a variety of landscapes to adventure, abundant natural resources, and a richly diverse population and mix of cultures.
Now, I’m going to list a few reasons why California is a place where invasive plant pests and diseases from around the world frequently come and thrive: on second thought, skip that. It’s the same list.
Fruit flies, wood-boring beetles, weeds, disease-spreading microorganisms and a host of other troublemakers all love California for the same reasons we do.
Our mild, Mediterranean climate allows pests to alter and accelerate their breeding cycles, find nourishment year-round, and generally survive better and multiply faster than they did in their home environment halfway around the world. The abundance and year-round availability of California’s varied plant life, from its agriculture to its natural environment and manicured landscaping, is a veritable oasis for pests that might have clung to survival on a much more limited diet and a rougher climate elsewhere. Think of how you’d feel landing in San Diego after a quick December flight from the East Coast…
The extraordinary diversity of California’s population also means that our state hosts travelers from around the world on a daily basis – and some of them bring in fruits and vegetables that are infested with pests, plants from “back home” that harbor diseases previously undetected here, or even soil or leaves or other plant matter that can carry microscopic organisms, diseases, even a fungus or a tiny worm.
Once here, these pests can quickly establish a foothold in our hospitable environment. Then, without any of the usual predators or parasites that kept them in check back at home, their populations can explode and wreak havoc in our beloved California.
How can you help? Well, April is Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month, and that’s a good time for a quick rundown of ways to protect our state, courtesy of the folks at the Invasive Species Council of California (ISCC) in its handy handout based on the theme “Hello Invasive Species, Goodbye California”:
- Keep a Lookout. Learn to identify the invasive plants and animals that affect your area. Learn more online at http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/unitedstates/ca.shtml
- Buy It Where You Burn It. Use local firewood to avoid giving bugs a free ride.
- Plant Carefully. Buy non-invasive home and garden plants from a reputable local source.
- Travel Safely. Please be sure to declare produce and plants at borders.
- Keep it Clean. Before returning home from fishing, hunting and camping trips, wash outdoor gear, boats and vehicles to keep hitchhikers from damaging other areas.
- Treat Pets Wisely. Always acquire pets from legal sources and never release any pets into the wild.
- Report Sightings. Being a “citizen scientist” is fun and easy. There are many ways to make a difference:
- Call California’s Pest Hotline at 800-491-1899
- Contact your local county Agricultural Commissioner, http://www.cacasa.org
- Visit whatisthisbug.org and download the Report A Pest app
California is our home – and it’s a wonderful place to visit, too. Let’s protect it from pests and diseases by being aware and alert.