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April is Invasive Plant, Pest and Disease Awareness Month; Public Urged to Help Prevent Spread of Invasive Pests that Feed on Agricultural Crops

Gypsy Moth catapillar

Gypsy Moth caterpillar

ANNAPOLIS, MD – April is Invasive Plant, Pest and Disease Awareness Month, a time when the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) urges residents to help stop the threat that invasive plant pests and diseases pose to America’s agricultural and natural resources.

“Invasive pests are among the most dangerous risks to agricultural commodities anywhere,” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “MDA entomologist and invasive species experts expend a great deal of energy tracking and monitoring these pests that regularly cost the U.S. billions of dollars and wreak havoc on the environment. Invasive Species Month is not only a good time to help the public understand the threats these organisms pose to our economy and lifestyle, but also a time to recognize the very important work MDA staff performs every day on behalf of all Marylanders.”

Invasive pests often arrive in the county on international cargo ships or with people returning from foreign travel. Once here, they can grow and spread rapidly, disrupting the areas they invade by pushing out native species, reducing biological diversity, damaging and destroying crops, killing forest trees, placing other species at increased risk of extinction, altering wildfire intensity and frequency, closing foreign markets to U.S. products from infested areas, and costing industry and governments millions of dollars in treatments and other response and control efforts.

Maryland’s greenhouse and nursery industry is the second largest agricultural sector in Maryland. It accounts for 15 percent of farm cash receipts and uses more than 20,000 acres of open space. Invasive pests continually threaten this critical industry.

MDA’s Plant Protection and Weed Management Program and Forest Pest Management Program work together to combat these invaders. Some of the most destructive pests are:

  • The Gypsy Moth – by far the most destructive pest of forest and shade trees in Maryland. Large outbreaks have affected hundreds of thousands of acres statewide. For more information
  • The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive beetle that can fit on a penny, has killed thousands of ash trees across the state since it was discovered in 2003. Losses from the EAB could exceed $227.5 million in the Baltimore metro area alone if it goes unchecked, according to the USDA. For more information
  • Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), an insect the size of a dot, threatens to wipe out Maryland’s 42,000 acres of hemlock forests, most of them from Baltimore County west to Garrett County. Several hemlock stands which have been infested for more than 10 years have extensive decline and some mortality. For more information

Two highly destructive invasive species are not established in Maryland, but the MDA remains on the look out for them and urges residents to watch for them as well.

  • Sudden Oak Death (ramorum blight) is a fungus-like organism found in the Pacific Northwest and poses a serious threat to a wide range of host plant species found in Maryland. In California, Oregon, and Washington, thousands of Oak and tanoaks have been killed. It also affects rhododendron, viburnum, camellia and other plants found in nurseries and natural landscapes. USDA rates the environmental impact of sudden oak death as “huge” because of restrictions in international and domestic trade and direct costs of prevention, eradication or suppression, and ecological impact. 
  • Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) is a very large invasive beetle with a long list of host trees it can kill, and is a serious threat in Maryland. It is currently devastating trees in Ohio, New York and Massachusetts where millions have been spent on eradicating this nuisance pest. 

If you suspect you have an invasive pest in your area, report it to the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center at 800-342-2507 or visit www.hgic.umd.edu.

What Can Citizens Do to Help Prevent the Spread of Invasive Pests

To help reduce the spread of invasive pests, there are several easy steps you can take to help reduce the spread of invasive pests and plants. If you do anything outdoors, from camping to hunting to farming:

  • Learn where infested areas are and avoid passing through them.
  • Remove all seeds and other plant parts from your equipment, boots, gear, truck bed, tires, animals, and harvesting equipment before leaving an infested area or after working a site to make sure you are not spreading seeds, insects, or spores to a new location.
  • Remove or eliminate from your property any junk piles or other places bees can nest.
  • Don’t move firewood. Buy or use firewood that is close to your campsite.
  • Hunters, don’t use invasive plants for food plots. 
  • Farmers and ranchers – be sure to control invasive plants along fencerows, ditches, and other areas adjacent to fields.
  • Always use weed-free hay and feed for your animals.
  • Report any invasive pest sightings to the local land manager, MDA or local APHIS office (www.aphis.usda.gov).

Tips for Gardeners:

  • Buy Local! There is a wide variety of beautiful, easy-to-care-for plants available at local nurseries and garden centers.
  • Avoid using invasive plant species at all costs and remove invasive plants from your garden.
  • Until you are able to rid your garden of invasive plants, remove and destroy seed heads before they can spread.
  • Don’t share invasives with other gardeners.
  • Talk to other gardeners about invasives and how you plan to help in the fight against them.
  • If you are worried that your garden will lose its luster after removing invasives, talk to your local nursery about suitable replacements.
  • Clean your boots, gear, truck bed, tires, and harvesting equipment after working a site to make sure you are not spreading seeds, insects, or spores to a new location.
  • • Report any sightings to your county extension agent or local APHIS office (click on the “Report a pest or disease” link at www.aphis.usda.gov). The sooner invasive species are detected, the easier and cheaper it is to control them.

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Contact Information

If you have any questions, need additional information or would like to arrange an interview, please contact:

Jason Schellhardt
Director of Communications
Telephone: 410-841-5888

Megan Guilfoyle
Public Information Officer
Telephone: 410-841-5889

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