Last week, Oregon Field Guide Producer Ed Jahn sent me a link to a thoughtful analysis of how the Oregon Department of Agriculture was handling the recent discovery of the state’s first light brown apple moth in a Polk County trap. Today, the agency announced the finding after setting 1,000 traps around the state to see if there were any more of the crop-destroying invasive pests.
None were found, so experts maintain the moth was a lone hitchhiker.
State leaders knew the revelation would cause a scare. Not only does the moth itself pose a major threat to fruit orchards, but the report of even one within state borders puts a permanent black mark on Oregon exports.
In her blog post entitled “The Downside of Honesty,” ODA’s Lisa DeBruyckere explains the dilemma, and why her agency considered burying the incident before deciding to come clean :
“We briefly considered sweeping this incident under the rug and not entering it in NAPIS (National Agricultural Pest Information System). This has been done before by other states, however it rarely goes unnoticed for long, and their reputation suffers. Not reporting survey records is like hiding a bad report card from your parents. It might avoid some short-term unpleasantness, but chances are you’ll get in bigger trouble later. Our experience with trading partners is similar. We’ve found it is better to be honest and hope the extra points we get for being a good trading partner offsets any potential hesitation caused by a single pest record.
There is a risk here. Single records can become immortal. A good example is mile-a-minute, Polygonum perfoliatum, a fast-growing vine with thorns. It is also known as Asiatic tearthumb – you can guess the reason why. The first record from the United States came from Portland, Oregon in the 1890s. It is believed to have arrived in dirt used as ship ballast. To my knowledge, this plant hasn’t been seen since, though you’ll still see maps indicating mile-a-minute is found in Oregon!*
ODA is working on a carefully worded press release to break the news about LBAM being trapped here. Cross your fingers that it doesn’t ignite a storm of regulatory action against our commodities. If anyone asks, please relay that it was just a hitchhiker, and ODA is planning to put out lots of traps next year to prove it.”