Looking for bad bugs among the Christmas presents

SLO County plant inspectors ferret out insects that could be harmful

dsneed@thetribunenews.comDecember 24, 2012 

Mary Beth Ahern, agricultural biologist with San Luis Obispo County Agriculture Department inspects incoming plant material at the UPS facility. The task requires knowledge of botony and entomology in an attempt to intercept invasive pests. "This is where it starts," said Ahern. Contaminated plants or fruit can start an infestation damaging to local agriculture. David Middlecamp 12-24-2012

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Christmas is a time for shipping packages. But sometimes those packages harbor something that can harm the local environment – invasive pests.

Inspectors with the county Agricultural Department are particularly busy this time of year checking packages shipped into the county. Specifically, they are looking for packages containing plant material.

“Destructive insects can hitchhike on Christmas wreaths and other greenery,” said Martin Settevendemie, county Agricultural Commissioner. “If they are inadvertently introduced into the environment these insects can cause serious consequences to agriculture and the local environment long after the holiday season has passed.”

During the past year, 3,460 packages were inspected with 47 being rejected for harboring pests or for other shipping violations. If insects or signs of plant diseases are found, the recipient of the package is notified.

Invasive pests are a constant problem for agricultural areas such as San Luis Obispo County. Pests of particular concern locally include the glassy-winged sharpshooter, an insect that spreads a disease fatal to wine grapes, and the light brown apple moth, an insect that can damage many trees, crops and ornamental plants.

Local agricultural officials recommend that people buy holiday greenery only from local sources. Also residents are encouraged to ask friends and family not to send live plant material or fresh fruits or vegetables from outside the county.

Call 781-5910 for more information.

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