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Highlights

Invasive forest pests have seriously harmed our environment and imposed significant costs upon our economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the lead agency for responding to forest pests. This report evaluates the federal response to three invasive forest pests--the Asian longhorned beetle, the emerald ash borer, and the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum (P. ramorum). Specifically, GAO describes (1) the status of efforts to eradicate these species, (2) the factors affecting the success of those efforts, (3) overall forest health monitoring programs, (4) coordination and communication of the three pest response efforts, and (5) USDA's use of panels of scientific experts to aid in the response efforts.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. To improve federal efforts to detect, manage, and eradicate infestations of invasive forest pests, the Secretary of Agriculture should expand current efforts to monitor forest health conditions, particularly in urban and suburban areas that are at high risk of receiving invasive insects and diseases. USDA's monitoring program should incorporate guidance on early detection issued by the National Invasive Species Council in 2003.
Closed - Implemented
In October 2006, USDA wrote to GAO that the Forest Service would, based upon the GAO report, expand the pilot program on Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) to a national level effort. USDA stated that the pilot program has monitored for bark beetles in areas processing wood materials in about 80 locations across the country. By expanding to a national effort, USDA said that it would increase the number of monitoring sites three-fold. Many of these sites would occur in urban areas which would directly respond to the GAO recommendation of increasing monitoring efforts in urban environments. The national program would evaluate one-third of all the States each year, and each State would thus be on a 3-year cycle for monitoring in this program. In 2007, the Forest Service began national implementation of the EDRR project. Based on funding levels of about $700,000, the Forest Service has been conducting trapping in about 17 states each year. Traps are placed at high-risk locations in urban forests, such as city parks, near warehouses or other sites which may receive solid wood packing materials. Funding is provided to its Regions, which then fund states to conduct the trapping. From 2007 through 2009, the Forest Service has trapped in 45 state. According to USDA, following the 2009 season, the agency will reassess if it will continue to rotate through states on a 3-year cycle or concentrate its efforts in high-risk states. The recommendation also called for USDA to incorporate into its program the guidance on early detection issued by the National Invasive Species Council in 2003. According to USDA, there are many elements in the guidelines that were part of pilot project protocol and that were incorporated into the EDRR project as it began national implementation.
Department of Agriculture 2. To improve federal efforts to detect, manage, and eradicate infestations of invasive forest pests, the Secretary of Agriculture should prepare, publish, and regularly update management plans for pests for which the department has initiated a management program. The plans and their updates should incorporate and describe changes in the extent of infestation; progress to date in control and eradication efforts; schedules for future control and eradication efforts, given known levels of funding; and future long-term funding needs. For the P. ramorum program in particular, an updated management plan should include the elements called for by law that were not included in USDA's 2005 plan, such as an estimate of the cost of anticipated activities.
Closed - Implemented
USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) responded that keeping management plans updated is a sound business practice which they support. According to APHIS, they have developed and posted to their website operational plans for the Asian long-horned beetle, the emerald ash borer, and P. ramorum. Business plans were completed for all three of these forest pests during 2009. These plans are reviewed and updated with the participation of stakeholders, scientific committees, and cooperators, as needed, but at least annually, according to AHPIS. Furthermore, for all three pests, APHIS provides information on current funding and resource needs for upcoming budget years through the annual budget development process.
Department of Agriculture 3. To improve federal efforts to detect, manage, and eradicate infestations of invasive forest pests, the Secretary of Agriculture should implement written procedures that broadly define when and how to operate panels of scientific experts for the purpose of assisting pest management teams, including a discussion on how to determine when such panels should be chartered as advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
Closed - Implemented
According to USDA/APHIS, the Plant Protection and Quaranting (PPQ) program objective is to obtain the best scientific information available to help guide the design and implementation of all management and regulatory programs. To accomplish this objective sometimes requires a multi-disciplined scientific committee. In other instances, one or two scientific experts meet the requirements. For some pests, the scientific committees meet once or twice; in other cases, they meet frequently to analyze data and adjust program activities. The increased staffing of the PPQ Center for Plant Health Science and Technology (CPHST) has greatly increased the availability of scientific expertise. CPHST has developed written procedures to define when and how to use scientific and technical experts, the types and roles of groups convened, and the criteria as to when a group should be chartered as an advisory committee under FACA.

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