Specialists with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are on the front line in the fight to intercept harmful pests that could decimate the U.S.’s resources and economy before the critters can be brought across the border.
“Our CBP agriculture specialists safeguard American agriculture by detecting and preventing the entry of foreign plant pests and animal diseases that could harm U.S. agricultural resources,” said Eugenio Garza Jr., director, Field Operations, Laredo Field Office.
In June of 2013, at the Gateway International Bridge, agricultural specialists found a harmful exotic insect, Monochamus galloprovincialis (Olivier), which is a bark and wood-boring beetle that is part of a large group of species that colonize severely stressed woody plants.
Its detection at a U.S. port of entry was the seventh time on record, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The interception of that pest was a first for the Brownsville, Texas port of entry.
A small worm called a nematode that lives inside the Olivier devastates trees via pine wilt disease, which can kill trees within a few weeks.
“The thing with these guys is they transmit a nematode, a worm, that actually gets in there and reproduces and fills up the little tubes that carry water from roots to leaves,” said Genaro López, a retired biology professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville. “The tree ends up suffocating and dying.”
The pest was found in a shipment of solid wood packaging materials from Russia, according to a CBP press release.
“It’s not surprising (to find them in wood packaging) in the sense that it’s the use of cheap wood,” López said. “See these beetles don’t get healthy trees — only dead and dying. So what is happening in Russia is they are using wood they can’t use for house framing so they make these cheap pallets so the beetle is in those pallets, and it’s not cost effective to treat all the pallets.”
That’s where CBP officers and agricultural specialists come into play.
In the Rio Grande Valley, after tell-tale signs of an intrusive pest are found, any collected specimens are sent to specialists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Inspection Station in Los Indios.
López stressed the importance of keeping non-native wood-boring pests out of the country.
“They need to inspect the lumber before it gets into the U.S.,” López said. “That’s one of the reasons why our government has to fund Customs.”
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