SUFC FY20 House Agriculture Appropriations Testimony

Written Testimony of the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition to the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

April 5, 2019

The Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition comprises national organizations and corporations representing hundreds of thousands of professionals and millions of supporters who care for, monitor and support trees growing in our urban and community forests—the trees growing where most people in the United States live. We write today in support of funding for programs at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that help keep the nation’s forests healthy by preventing introduction and spread of invasive pests. Specifically, we ask the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies to maintain in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 the FY2019 funding levels for four “lines” under the USDA APHIS Plant Health program: “Tree and Wood Pests at $60 million,” “Specialty Crops at $186 million, ” “Methods Development at $21 million,” and “Detection Funding at $27 million.

Because of the significant threat posed by non-native tree-killing pests to forests in both urban and rural or wildland settings, it is paramount to continue to adequately fund these programs. Pests are often initially introduced in the urban or suburban settings which first receive the bulk of the imports which are transporting the pests. Municipal governments and homeowners already pay billions of dollars each year to counter these pests; these costs will rise dramatically if the pests are allowed to spread. The pests also cause the loss of mature tree canopies in communities across the country. Research has shown it may take at least four generations for the community’s tree canopy to be restored when lost to an invasive pest.

Although pests often first establish cities or suburbs, they don’t stay there. Instead, the worst of them proliferate and spread to other vulnerable trees. This movement is also often facilitated by people—through the movement of wood (such as firewood) and plants (such as through the nursery trade). Thus, the pests introduced to our cities threaten not just the trees in city parks, along their streets, and in people’s yards—as important as those trees are to the environment and human well-being. Those pests also threaten forests across the continent. While rapid eradication efforts initiated when the pests are first detected are crucial to preventing pests’ spread and the resulting destruction to our forests, the best defense is to stop the entry. These efforts are the responsibility of the USDA APHIS.

As import levels rise, so does the risk that new pests will be introduced. In 2017, an estimated 17,650 shipping containers per year (or 48 per day) carried wood-boring insects to North America. Other pests, such as gypsy moths and spotted lanternflies, reach our shores as egg masses attached to hard imports such as steel or vehicles, or to containers. Despite the rising risk, funding for APHIS’ program targeting the “tree and wood pests” associated with crates and pallets fell from $85 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to $55 million in Fiscal Year 2012 and remained at that level until last year. During this same period, many new forest pests were detected in the United States, including such highly damaging pests as the spotted lanternfly and Kuroshio shot hole borer.

Imports of living plants are a second major pathway for introduction of forest pests. Among newly detected pests probably introduced via this pathway are the two pathogens threatening the most widespread tree in Hawai’i, ʻōhiʻa lehua, and beech leaf disease.

APHIS needs to be able to respond to these pests and to the others that will be introduced in coming years. To do so, the four APHIS programs must be supported at current levels / ideally be provided increased funding and staff. For this reason, we thank the Committee for the $4 million increase in funding for the “Tree and Wood Pests” budget account and the $14 million increase in funding for the “Specialty Crops” budget account.

Funding through the “Tree and Wood Pests” budget account currently supports eradication and control efforts targeting only three insects: the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), emerald ash borer (EAB), and gypsy moth. Each is responsible for billions of dollars in damage each year. The program to eradicate the ALB has been funded at about $40 million in recent years. It has succeeded in eradicating 85% of the infestation in New York and some of the outlying infestations in Ohio. There is encouraging progress in Massachusetts. However, this program must be maintained until final success in all states.

The EAB program has been funded at $7 million in recent years. APHIS has proposed to terminate the emerald ash borer regulatory program. Program termination would greatly increase the risk that the EAB will spread to the mountain and Pacific Coast states – where many urban and riparian forests have large ash components. California has five native species of ash that could be significantly affected by the introduction of EAB. Ash trees provide a higher percentage (8%) of Los Angeles’ tree canopy than any other species. This proportion will rise as other tree species succumb to the polyphagous and Kuroshio shot hole borers. The state’s olive crop – worth $160 million – is also at risk. Oregon’s one native species of ash is widespread in riparian areas and many urban plantings consist of ash. Ashes represent 4% of Portland’s urban trees. Many stakeholders have urged APHIS to continue to regulate movement of firewood and other materials that facilitate the ash borer’s spread. We hope the increase in funding might allow APHIS to reverse its decision and respond to stakeholders’ pleas.

The “Specialty Crops” program provides funds for APHIS’ regulation of nursery operations to prevent spread of the sudden oak death pathogen. Were the pathogen to spread to the East, it would threaten such important eastern forest tree species as northern red oak, chestnut, white, and pin oaks; sugar maple; and black walnut. In future, this budget line could support efforts to manage the spotted lanternfly, which is currently managed through a combination of emergency funding under 7 U.S.C. §7772 and grants funded through the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Program (§7721 of the Plant Protection Act).

As noted above, we support continued funding of the “Methods Development” program at FY19 levels ($21 million). This program assists APHIS in developing detection and eradication tools essential for an effective response to new pests.

Similarly, we support continued funding of the “Detection” budget line at $27 million. This program supports the critically important collaborative state –federal program that detects newly introduced pests. Successful eradication and containment programs depend on such early detection. Such programs prevent more widespread pest damage, loss of forestland, and associated costs and job losses.

Maintaining funding for these four programs is crucially important to the long-term health of our forests, the economic health of forest-based rural economies and health of our urban forest cover.

We appreciate the opportunity to share this testimony, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Subcommittee to further the goal of ensuring adequate funding in the FY 2018 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for critical pest-prevention and control programs.

Supporting Members:

Alliance for Community Trees

American Forests

American Planning Association

American Society of Consulting Arborists

American Society of Landscape Architects

Arbor Day Foundation

Bartlett Tree Foundation

Center for Invasive Species Prevention

Corazon Latino

Green Infrastructure Center

International Society of Arboriculture

Keep America Beautiful

National Association of Counties

National Association of Conservation Districts

National Association of Conservation Districts

National Association of Landscape Professionals

National Association of State Foresters

National Recreation and Park Association

OPEI Foundation

Professional Grounds Maintenance Society

The Davey Foundation

The Nature Conservancy

Society of American Foresters

Society of Municipal Arborists

Student Conservation Association

Tree Care Industry Association

TREE Fund

Trees Forever

The Trust for Public Land

Wildlife Habitat Council