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Thinking Ahead–Letter from Chaille: Don’t Mean to Bug You
The fight to stop invasive species is no longer at the border. It is now a domestic problem. This reality is increasing the likelihood that the government may require domestic pallets and wood packaging be treated to mitigate the problem.
By Chaille M. Brindley
Date Posted: 5/1/2007
Little pests are becoming a big deal. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimated that the emerald ash borer (EAB) will cost the state about $3 billion over the next 10 years. And that’s just one of the states impacted by this threat.
The fight to stop invasive species is no longer at the border. It is now a domestic problem. This reality is increasing the likelihood that the government may require domestic pallets and wood packaging be treated to mitigate the problem. I want to be clear. The government has not done this yet. But this is looming on the horizon as a strong possibility, especially in domestic quarantine areas.
Currently, there are 3,800 companies in the U.S. heat treatment program for solid wood packaging materials. According to Tom Searles of the American Lumber Standard Committee, there is no real good data about what percentage of packaging material produced by these companies is untreated. One inspector accustomed to visiting plants estimated that far less than 20% of the new pallets produced in the country each year are ISPM-15 compliant.
If the government began to require treatment by either heat or fumigation for domestic pallets and wood packaging, it would have a tremendous impact on the industry. There would be both winners and losers.
For starters, there would not be enough heat treatment capacity to comply. Companies would have to significantly expand capacity. Chamber manufacturers would be overrun with orders. Little guys would have to buy expensive equipment or pay for fumigation services that they may not be able to afford. Some companies may emerge to focus solely on treating packaging for others. This challenge would provide some new business opportunities.
Widespread enforcement would favor larger, more established players in an area. But there are downsides even for them. They would have to pay to expand treatment capacity just like the smaller companies. The big difference is that the larger companies can more easily afford it. If IPPC certification became required for all pallets, treatment and marking would no longer be viewed by customers as an added service. It would become commoditized. And in time, the extra money earned for this service might go away as market forces beat down pallet prices.
Requiring domestic treatment also creates an atmosphere that is ripe for cheating. The ALSC has reported that cheating on heat treatment marks is not that common considering the number of pallets being treated per year. The penalty for getting caught is just so high. But if everyone had to do it, enforcement might become more difficult as smaller, less sophisticated companies look to get certified. Some companies might be tempted to stamp pallets that have not been treated.
Any measure to extend treatment domestically would be best if phased in over time in critical areas first. As difficult as the solution seems, it may be the best option. Allowing the invasive pests to spread could be disastrous for American forests.
Some have called for alternative materials, such as composites, plastics or corrugate packaging to be used. This would be even worse for the wood packaging industry because it could lead to massive erosion of market share.
Alternative materials are not the best answer from an economic or performance perspective, especially if you can’t establish closed loop systems. Even after heat treatment costs are considered, wood remains the most versatile, least expensive option.
Alternative materials may not be any better for the environment either. Plastic is a non-renewable, non-biodegradable resource that takes a lot of energy to produce. Metal requires more energy to produce than wood packaging. There is a place for each type of material, but it doesn’t seem that the phytosanitary issue should be the deciding factor, especially since there are viable treatment methods for wood packaging.
Invasive pests are a significant threat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that if EAB is not contained or eradicated, it has the potential to cost state and local governments approximately $7 billion over the next 25 years. The USDA estimates that there are 8 billion ash trees in the country with a value of $282 billion. Without an effective eradication and prevention program, the pest could wipe out a lot of those trees. Oak and ash are the dominate hardwood lumber species used in pallets in some parts of the country. Any regulation of ash would have a major impact on pallet and cut stock suppliers in affected regions.
EAB is one of only a number of major threats. Another emerging concern is the
Sirex Woodwasp, which attacks pine forests. The wasp was first found in New York state last year. It has also been discovered in Canada. The Sirex woodwasp could pose a major threat to the vast pine plantations of the Southeast.
It was responsible for major damage in New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa. The Sirex Woodwasp ravaged forests in the southern hemisphere until experts discovered a parasitic worm that can make the wasp’s eggs infertile. Using a biological control agent, such as a worm, comes with risks because it can prove harmful to insects that are helpful.
It’s not the wasp or its larvae that kill the trees. Female wasps introduce a fungus into the bark of the tree to provide food for the larvae. The fungus is the culprit that can kill a tree in less than a year. There tends to be very little visible evidence to identify infestation until it is too late.
New York has enacted voluntary procedures for pallets and wood products being shipped out of the quarantine area. For more information, visit http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dlf/privland/forprot/health/sww.html
Some question how effective the containment efforts will be for pests like the EAB or the Sirex Woodwasp. Nobody really knows this for sure. But at least if the industry takes proactive steps, we won’t be to blame.
From wasps to beetles to nematodes, there are a lot of pesky critters that may want to catch a ride on your wood packaging. Don’t be surprised if effective treatment becomes more common for all pallets not just those shipped outside of the country. Increased enforcement may be a pain although it could be necessary to ensure the long term viability of our forests and our industry.
I don’t mean to bug you. Nobody wants to focus on bugs when many pallet and lumber companies are struggling to stay alive. But I though it was important for everyone to know what may become reality in the future.
Now is the time for you to make your voice heard and prepare for the future. Some may welcome a requirement for domestic treatment. Others may think it is a bad idea and poor solution to the problem. No matter your perspective, you should become familiar with the issues, contact your local industry groups and associations, and prepare your facility to face whatever happens in the future.