Scientists make inroads against tree-killing pests

Trees provide shade to keep us cool, produce oxygen for us to breathe and calm our nerves. Numerous studies have demonstrated that even brief contact with trees and green spaces can provide significant human health benefits such as reductions in blood pressure and stress-related hormones. Trees also reduce noise and visual pollution, help manage storm water runoff, reduce erosion and provide habitat for birds and wildlife. Trees naturally capture carbon, helping to offset the forces of climate change. They also increase the value of our properties and communities. In short, trees are essential to our well-being.

Unfortunately, invasive pests pose an ongoing threat to California’s forests in both urban and wildland settings. Invasive insects such as goldspotted oak borer and invasive shothole borers have killed hundreds of thousands of trees in Southern California and are continuing to spread. Meanwhile, other pests and diseases such as Mediterranean oak borer and sudden oak death are killing trees in Northern California.

While the situation may sound dire, it is not hopeless. Of course, the best way to stop invasive pests is to prevent them from entering the state, as the California Department of Food and Agriculture has done on many occasions. For example, several months ago, CDFA border inspectors seized a load of firewood containing spotted lanternfly eggs (a pest that is causing extensive damage on the East Coast). When pests do sneak in, the next defense is to catch them early before they become established. Finally, even if pests do become established, they can be managed if not completely eradicated.

A few examples may help to illustrate why invasive tree pests deserve action, but not panic.

Red striped palm weevil eradicated in Laguna Beach

When red striped palm weevil, a highly destructive palm pest native to Indonesia, was discovered in Laguna Beach in October 2010, a working group was quickly formed to develop a management plan. The small but diverse group included international palm weevil experts, research scientists from University of California Riverside, CDFA and U.S. Department of Agriculture, UC Cooperative Extension personnel from San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties …


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