OAN Comments on Sudden Oak Death
These comments were drafted by the Oregon Association of Nurseries for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Also see the fact sheet page for information on Sudden Oak Death.
April 15, 2002
Docket No. 01-054-1
Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD
APHIS, Station 3C71
4700 River Road Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238
RE: Phytophthora Ramorum; Quarantine and Regulations (Docket # 01-054-1)
The Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN) is a 1,500-member association representing the interests of Oregon growers, handlers and retailers of nursery and greenhouse plant material. The Oregon nursery and greenhouse industry is the leading sector of agriculture in the state, producing over $642 million in wholesale sales of plant material in 2000. The vast majority of the state's wholesale production is shipped out of state to markets in Washington, the Midwest and East Coast.
Oregon nursery and greenhouse producers consider Sudden Oak Death (SOD), caused by Phytophthora ramorum, a major biological and economic threat to the industry. Accordingly, the OAN strongly supports a federal quarantine. Prior to publication in the Federal Register of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS), Plant Protection Quarantine (PPQ) interim-final quarantine on February 14, 2002, Oregon had in effect its own very protective quarantine against SOD. With the backing of Oregon's nursery and greenhouse industry, Oregon's quarantine, developed and enforced by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), went into effect approximately one year prior to APHIS' quarantine.
We recognize APHIS faces a difficult challenge in its attempt to balance the interests of people and businesses in areas not currently affected by SOD and the commercial interests of those that fall within regulated areas under the quarantine. In general, the OAN believes APHIS-PPQ's quarantine, as published on February 14, 2002, strikes the right balance and the proper tone. Despite our general support for the quarantine, we urge APHIS-PPQ to consider several changes to both enhance the protectiveness of the quarantine and to better reflect the realities of commercial nursery and greenhouse production.
Last Fall, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) expanded an existing quarantine on SOD to apply to the entire state of Oregon. The effect of this change was to effectively prohibit the shipment of nearly all Oregon nursery and greenhouse plant material into Canada. The CFIA quarantine remained in effect for almost three months and threatened to disrupt nearly $20 million of Oregon shipments to Canada.
Oregon's experience with the CFIA quarantine underscores an important point ‚ APHIS-PPQ's quarantine must inspire confidence, in both domestic and foreign markets, that the United States has an effective program to limit the artificial spread of SOD through commercial channels. At the present time, the nursery industries in both Oregon and Washington are working to develop a market in Japan for Northwest nursery plant material. A strong and effective quarantine is essential.
While the OAN backs a strong quarantine aimed at preventing the artificial spread of SOD, we recognize that SOD may continue to spread naturally. Experience shows the current pattern of infection and spread of SOD in the environment is uneven in its progression and appears to "hopscotch" from place to place. The distances between areas of SOD infestations can be significant. APHIS-PPQ must take care to implement the quarantine to allow nurseries in areas free of SOD to continue operating, even though these nurseries may only be several miles distant from infested stands of native plant material.
While overall the OAN supports the interim regulation, we believe APHIS-PPQ must address several specific issues.
The regulation of soil under the interim quarantine is a crucial issue. In the absence of firm scientific data, APHIS-PPQ must take a relatively conservative approach regarding the movement of soil from quarantined areas harboring infected plant material. We note the interim regulation provides soil associated with nursery stock in quarantined areas can move into interstate commerce provided the soil has not come into contact with any host plant material infected with P. ramorum, and the shipment is accompanied by a certificate (issued subsequent to appropriate inspections). The rule, however, provides that such soil must be free of "duff."
The term "duff" is defined broadly by the interim regulation to include leaf litter, green waste, stem material, bark, etc. The broad definition of duff combined with a requirement that soil must be free from duff is overly restrictive. It makes little sense to us that a nursery growing non-SOD host nursery stock in soil that has never been in contact with infected plant material should be denied a certificate for the movement of such nursery stock (and soil). Moreover, it is impossible to keep those nursery plants readied for shipping and subject to inspection from shedding leaves and other material onto the soil in which they are contained. Finally, the interim regulation seems to provide that heat-treated soil can move into interstate commerce, even with the presence of duff. We fail to understand the distinction in the rule that allows duff on heat-treated soil, but not on soil that has never been in contact with infected plant material.
A commercial nursery, operating within a quarantine area, producing non-SOD host plant material contained in soil that has never been in contact with infected plant material, should be given greater latitude to ship into interstate commerce; provided, no infected host plants are within, adjacent to or in the immediate area of the nursery.
Authority of Inspectors
We recognize the interim rule cannot anticipate all contingencies and circumstances, and inspectors must have the flexibility and necessary autonomy to make decisions in the field. However, we believe APHIS-PPQ must elaborate further on the language contained in Section 301.92-2(a)(3) that states, "Any other product or article that an inspector determines to present a risk of spreading Phytophthora ramorum, if an inspector notifies the person in possession of the product or article that it is subject to the restrictions in the regulations."
Increasingly, reports surface in the media regarding the spread and/or identification of new host plant species susceptible to SOD. These stories are typically alarmist in nature and appear well before a scientific determination has been rendered. Media reports in early January 2002 relating to the supposed susceptibility of California Redwoods underscore this point. The OAN is concerned that an inspector, under the authority provided by regulation, may act precipitously in response to such media reports or other unfounded information, and improperly restrict the movement of nursery stock.
In general, we believe the manner and process by which APHIS-PPQ adds to the list of regulated plant species must have a very clear and sound scientific basis. Studies or laboratory results indicating host susceptibility for particular plant species merit significant review and consideration before being accepted by APHIS-PPQ. The agency should carefully consider how well such studies or laboratory results characterize the likelihood of a given plant species becoming infected in natural conditions or in a commercial nursery.
Composting and use of composted materials is an important dimension of nursery production in Oregon. The OAN is concerned that the interim regulation fails to recognize the effectiveness of composting, when properly done, to kill plant pathogens. We believe the interim regulation should recognize composting as an effective treatment for regulated articles. Many nurseries use composting to render surplus plant material into a soil amendment or as a constituent of growing media.
The interim regulation provides for annual inspections as necessary for nurseries to qualify for certificates to move nursery stock into interstate commerce. We believe nursery inspections are a crucial element for preventing the spread of P. ramorum. It is very important that a nursery operating within a quarantine area have an opportunity through inspection, sampling and testing to demonstrate that they are free of P. ramorum.
We note the inspection process described in the interim regulation ignores the possible presence of native host plant material within or adjacent to a commercial nursery. We are optimistic that the APHIS-PPQ quarantine can substantially limit the spread of SOD by commercial means. However, if the disease continues to spread naturally, APHIS-PPQ inspectors must be cognizant of the possible presence of native host plants and their disease status within or near commercial nurseries.
Pre-shipment inspection of nursery stock originating from quarantine areas is very important to assuring the acceptability of that product in the marketplace and to prevent the spread of P. ramorum. We anticipate APHIS-PPQ will authorize inspectors from the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to perform annual inspections, pre-shipment inspections and to issue certificates. Consequently, we believe state agencies operating inspection programs should have the authority to waive the 14-day requirement for requesting a pre-shipment inspection. The 14-day requirement in Section 301.92-7 of the interim regulation is too inflexible and not compatible with the business needs of commercial nurseries in Oregon. Again, state agencies performing the inspections should have the flexibility to establish shorter time requirements.
In general, the OAN strongly believes a federal quarantine is necessary to prevent the artificial spread of P. ramorum and the spread of SOD. The APHIS-PPQ interim regulation does a commendable job in balancing the needs of commercial nurseries operating within quarantine areas against the interests of nurseries outside of quarantined areas. However, we believe APHIS-PPQ must consider changes in the following areas:
Soil: Liberalize the permitted movement of soil that has never been in contact with infected plant material and provide for a more realistic definition of "duff."
Authority of Inspectors: The addition of new plant species to the list of regulated articles under the interim rule should not occur on an ad-hoc basis, but should result from the thoughtful review of sound data. It's important that APHIS-PPQ promote a uniform approach to regulation of nursery stock.
Composting: The interim regulation fails to recognize the role of composting in commercial nursery settings and the utility of composting (when properly done) in killing P. ramorum.
Annual Inspections: Annual inspections are necessary to verify the status of commercial nurseries operating within quarantine areas as free of P. ramorum. We urge APHIS-PPQ to examine and regulate the presence of native host plants located in or adjacent to commercial nurseries.
Pre-shipment Inspections: APHIS-PPQ should allow greater flexibility in the notification requirements for requesting a pre-shipment inspection. Fourteen days notice is impractical.
We urge APHIS-PPQ to remain flexible and to modify its quarantine of P. ramorum as the scientific understanding of this plant pathogen increases.
Sincerely, John Aguirre, Executive Director