SUFC Member Initiative Spotlight: Center for Invasive Species Prevention

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Written Public Testimony from the Center for Invasive Species Prevention

Submitted to the 

House Committee on Appropriations

Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies

Testimony Pertaining to the USDA Forest Service FY23 Budget

 March 10, 2022

Submitted by Faith T. Campbell, President

We write to ask you to support funding for two programs of the USDA Forest Service. Each is essential for protecting the resilience of the Nation’s forests in the face of invasive pests. 

Specifically, we ask that the Subcommittee appropriate to the Forest Health Management Program (FHP) $51 million for the Cooperative Lands subprogram and at least $32 million for the Federal Lands subprogram. Both subprograms must be funded in order to ensure continuity of protection efforts – which is the only way they can be effective. 

We ask further that the Subcommittee adopt report language requiring that five percent of the Forest and Rangeland Research Program’s $300 million budget be allocated to research on invasive species. The $15 million would fund research necessary to improving managers’ understanding of invasive forest insects’ and pathogens’ invasion pathways and impacts, as well as to developing effective management strategies. 

Urban, Rural, and Wildland Forests: Indispensable and Threatened

About one-third of America’s land area supports forests or woodlands. These provide many benefits, including wood and non-wood forest products; jobs for rural economies; wildlife habitat; carbon sequestration; clean water and air; and recreation and aesthetic enjoyment. About 60 percent of these forests are owned by states or private entities.

While the ecosystem benefits provided by rural and wildland forests are well understood, the contributions of urban forests are sometimes not recognized. Urban forests moderate temperatures and winds, thus reducing energy expenditures and related emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. They curb stormwater runoff and its management costs. Urban trees filter air and water pollutants. And they improve the health and wellbeing of city residents.

The Need for a Continuum of Pest Management

A growing number of non-native pests and pathogens threaten our forests. Already, an estimated 41% of forest biomass in the “lower 48” states is at risk to mortality caused by the 15 species causing the greatest damage. Unique plant communities and critical watersheds are being destroyed. These include the black ash swamps of the upper Midwest, riparian forests in the far West, stream canyons of the Appalachian range, and high-elevation forests of the Rocky Mountain states. [A thorough discussion of these pests’ impacts is in Invasive Species in Forests and Grasslands of the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the United States Forest Sector, available here]

Meantime, newly-discovered pests cause threats to which the FHP must respond. Examples include rapid ʻōhiʻa death threatening the unique forest ecosystems of Hawai`i; a disease killing beech trees from Ohio to Maine and south to Virginia (beech leaf disease); and the spotted lanternfly, now spread across Pennsylvania and down the Appalachians to the middle of Virginia, as well as on the Indiana/Kentucky border. 

These introduced pests usually first appear in cities or suburbs because they arrive on imported goods destined to population centers. The immediate result is enormous damage to urban forests. 

However, the pests don’t stay in cities. Instead, they proliferate and spread to rural and wildland forests, including National forests. Some spread on their own. Others are carried far and wide on firewood, plants, or even storage pods. Thus they quickly grow from a local outbreak to a national problem that hop-scotches across state boundaries. 

 In this way, the pests introduced to our cities threaten forests across the continent, demanding a federal response. Examples of tree-killing pests that have spread from urban areas to our National forests include the hemlock woolly adelgid, emerald ash borer, polyphagous and Kuroshio shot hole borers, sudden oak death, laurel wilt disease, and spotted lanternfly.  

As this history demonstrates, protecting our National forests must begin by addressing pests where they are first found – usually in urban or semi-rural forests. The Cooperative Lands subprogram of the Forest Health Management program does this by providing technical and financial assistance to the states and other forest-management partners. 

Our request for $51 million for work on non-federal cooperative lands would partially restore capacity lost over the last decade. Since Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, spending to combat 11 specified non-native insects and pathogens fell by about 50%. Meanwhile, the pests have spread. 

Of course, management of the many non-native and native pests threatening our National forests constitutes an essential element of the pest-management continuum. For this reason, CISP supports a $32 million appropriation for the Federal Lands subprogram for FY23. 

I will highlight a less-known but vital aspect of the FHP program: its leadership on breeding pest-resistant trees to restore forests decimated by pests. One component, the Dorena Genetic Resource Center, in Cottage Grove, Oregon, has long provided genetic services to the 19 National forests plus cooperators in Oregon and Washington.  One of the Center’s projects has developed Port-Orford cedar seedlings resistant to the fatal root. These seedlings are now being planted by National forests, the Bureau of Land Management, and others. In addition, pines with some resistance to white pine blister rust are also under development. Both conifers are important timber species and essential to restoring the region’s biodiversity, so these resistant trees are good news! Also, the Dorena Center offers expert advice to partners in the Forest Service and other federal, state, and academic institutions engaged in resistance-breeding for Oregon’s ash trees and two tree species in Hawai`i, koa and ʻōhiʻa.   

USDA Forest Service Forest and Rangeland Research Program

Effective programs to prevent, suppress, and eradicate non-native insects, diseases, and plants can be developed only after scientists understand the pest-host relationship. Often, when pests are first detected, little to nothing is known about them. This crucial knowledge can be gained only through research. 

Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of the Forest Service’s $300 million research budget has been allocated to improving managers’ understanding of specific invasive species and, more generally, of the factors contributing to bioinvasions. 

Funding for research conducted by the Research stations on ten non-native pests decreased from $10 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to just $2.5 million in Fiscal Year 2020 – less than one percent of the total research budget. This cut of more than 70% has crippled the USFS’ ability to develop effective tools to manage the growing number of pests. 

Worse, further cuts are being contemplated. Last year the Administration proposed closing the Pacific Southwest Research Station. This step, fortunately averted for now, is extremely unwise given the continued spread of sudden oak death; multiple threats to Hawaiian forests (rapid ʻōhiʻa death, ʻōhiʻa rust, koa wilt, Erythrina gall wasp on wiliwili tree; and Myoporum thrips on naio); and the growing number of introduced wood-borers in California. 

The USFS Research and Development program must also continue leading efforts to breed hemlocks resistant to hemlock woolly adelgid; ashes resistant to emerald ash borer; beech resistant to both beech bark disease and beech leaf disease; and elms resistant to Dutch elm disease. The Research program also continues studies to understand the epidemiology of laurel wilt disease, which has spread to sassafras trees in Kentucky and Virginia. 

To ensure the future health of America’s forests, we ask the Subcommittee to enhance funding for vitally important research into invasive species by including in its report language an instruction that the Service increase the funding for this vital research area to five percent of the total research budget. 

For further information, contact Faith Campbell at 703-569-8745 or [email protected]