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Letter from Ed: Will the Emerald Ash Borer Impact Your Business?
Just because you don’t have official cases of infestation means little when human activity can spread the pest so quickly. You may be EAB free one month and on the infestation list the next.
By Edward C. Brindley, Jr.
Date Posted: 12/1/2007
Unless you are in a quarantine area, you may not think that the emerald ash borer (EAB) should be a major concern for your business. Think again!
One of the main differences between the EAB and some of the other pests that have become a pallet issue is that we are using quarantines inside the United States to try and prevent its spread. Illinois, Indiana, Maryland (one county), Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania (four counties) currently have quarantines. In addition, the EAB has recently been discovered in West Virginia.
The pest keeps on making its way east across the country and is attacking ash trees as it goes. Just because you don’t have official cases of infestation means little when human activity can spread the pest so quickly. You may be EAB free one month and on the infestation list the next.
The spread of invasive species through wood packaging is becoming a competitive issue that wood alternatives are using to their advantage. That should cause concern for anyone in the wood pallet business. According to the NWPCA, some green groups are calling for a move from wood to plastic or other alternatives.
Government officials, the wood packaging industry, key packaging users, certification agencies, scientists and other exports are talking about the various quarantine and treatment options.
It is our understanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering the possibility of requiring treatment of all wooden pallets, but no final decision has been made. Bruce Scholnick of the NWPCA said, “We are encouraging the USDA to require treatment of all wooden pallets. This request is currently being considered by the USDA legal department.”
The NWPCA believes a national treatment program would eliminate the plant health risk while keeping the pest issue from leading to the downfall of the wood pallet industry. Even though some may not like the costs of treating all pallets, Bruce said that it may either come down to treating all pallets or risk losing the market.
In May, Chaille wrote his letter on the EAB. He outlined many of the factors associated with expanding quarantine and treatment requirements.
While no national conclusions have been reached, national regulations may make more sense to tackle this kind of problem than state by state regulations. After all, bugs don’t recognize state lines.
Primarily due to human activity, the pest is spreading faster than many had hoped. Deborah McPartlan of the USDA said, “We can move insects better than insects can move insects.” This is particularly true for the EAB because the insect reportedly can move fairly short distances each year on its own. However, we can move it virtually any distance in wooden pallets or packaging, firewood, mulch, and other wood products.
Gary Gibson, an official with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, said, “We were surprised to find the beetle this far south, because the closest known areas of infestation are in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I thought our first find would be in the Northern Panhandle.”
The EAB was discovered in Fayette County, West Virginia, in a trap tree that had been developed by the state government to survey for the pest. It is believed that this initial infestation came from firewood that was brought in by campers who visited the New River Gorge area.
Gibson, who is responsible for the department overseeing plant health issues in West Virginia, said that it is too early to put any type of quarantine into effect, although a quarantine of the county might be considered. The government is still trying to determine the size of the infestation and the localities that need containment.
West Virginia has a relatively low percentage of ash timber in its forests (about 2.5% of the state’s tree population), but it is an important species in many states in the eastern Great Lakes region of the country.
Officials in Michigan have recently confirmed a second EAB infestation in the Upper Peninsula region, in the town of Moran about 15 miles northwest of the Mackinac Bridge. Officials thought they had contained the pest after finding it in a state park in 2005. The government had pursued an aggressive eradication program by removing thousands of trees.
The USDA is working to keep individual pests under control, but the potential to handle wooden products with an overall approach to prevent pest movement is being discussed. During a recent meeting of government and industry people, much was discussed, many questions were asked, but very few specific decisions were made.
Pallet companies in the quarantined states are required to treat ash pallets with either fumigation or heat treatment in compliance with ISPM-15 regulations or remove the bark plus the outer half-inch of the wood. While the treatment requirement is technically being made on pallets made with ash, from a practical perspective it is difficult or impossible to differentiate ash from other hardwoods. The only practical way of policing a program such as this is to treat all wooden pallets. While technically ash is permissible if the outer half-inch of wood and bark has been removed, the wood industry is not in a position to implement this kind of solution.
Bruce pointed out that the problem with localized rules is that pallets cross multiple jurisdictions. It is too easy for companies in one state to get away with something that is not allowed in a neighboring state. This causes confusion, trade barriers, and an unfair playing field. It unnecessarily complicates the situation.
Not everyone favors universal requirements. Some small producers are concerned about the cost and scientific justification for universal treatment. Thus far, many smaller pallet plants have handled pallet treatment needs by either fumigation or having other pallet companies handle heat treatment options for them. If a big push to treat all pallets develops at some point, it could obviously cause some problems with treating capacity in the short run. This might cause some upward pressure on treatment service prices as demand increases while capacity ramps up. The treating capacity of the pallet industry has grown steadily to handle current needs. Operating treating facilities overtime could help fill-in as needed if the demand develops.
Heat treating charges are still seen as a positive development by many pallet companies, but like many positive financial developments, the prices pallet companies are charging are subject to competitive pressures. Currently, prices are on a downward slide. A comprehensive requirement could easily erase that trend in the short term while eliminating this as a value-added service in the long run.
Quarantines have not proven successful yet in containing the EAB unlike some pests, such as the Asian longhorned beetle. Critics ask, “Why go to all this effort to focus on pallets when firewood may be the biggest culprit for spreading the pest domestically?” That’s a good question. But maybe an even better one is, “Can the industry afford not to act given the public backlash for spreading a tree killer?”