WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today announced a new, multi-state, public education initiative to enlist public support for preventing the spread of invasive species that threaten food crops and trees. The major multi-year campaign, dubbed "Hungry Pests," focuses on USDA's most wanted invasive species, and its launch coincides with the observance of Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month in April.

USDA Puts Invasive Pests in Its Crosshairs The USDA is launching the outreach at a time when a growing number of invasive pests -- non-native insects, other animals, plants and plant diseases -- are feeding on America's agricultural crops, trees and other plants. These hungry pests have cost the U.S. billions of dollars, wreak havoc on the environment and can impact public health.

"Invasive pests hit close to home and threaten the things we value," said Rebecca A. Blue, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs. "We need the public's help because these hungry pests can have a huge impact on the items we use in everyday life, from the fabric in our clothing, the food on our table, the lumber used to build our home and the flowers in our garden. During one of the most successful periods in history for U.S. agriculture, it is important that we step up our efforts to educate Americans about USDA's good work to protect our nation's food, fiber, feed and fuel from invasive pests."

The Hungry Pests initiative includes a new television public service announcement that features a computer-generated creature made of invasive pests, who fancies himself a tourist and tries to hitchhike with passing motorists. The ad urges people to "Leave Hungry Pests Behind." It can be viewed at www.hungrypests.com/pr-psa/.

The USDA has identified a list of invasive pests that pose big threats to our agriculture and economy. They include four moths (European grapevine moth, false codling moth, European gypsy moth and light brown apple moth); three flies (Mediterranean fruit fly, Mexican fruit fly and Oriental fruit fly); two beetles (Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer); and plant diseases, a mollusk, and a disease carrier (sudden oak death, citrus greening, giant African snail, and Asian citrus psyllid). Visit www.HungryPests.com to learn more about the dangers posed by these species.

The leading cause of the spread of invasive pests is people moving them unintentionally, according to the USDA. Pests sneak into air and ship cargo from other countries, and they "hitchhike" across state lines on plants, fruits, vegetables, firewood, camping gear, outdoor furniture and clothing. For example, the emerald ash borer -- which has killed millions of ash trees across many states since it was detected in 2002 -- probably entered the U.S. in wood packing materials. And the Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads one of the world's most serious citrus diseases, citrus greening disease, has traveled to different states on transported plants.

People may spread hungry pests, but people can also help stop them. The USDA urges everyone to "leave hungry pests behind" by observing these practices:

•Buy Local, Burn Local. Invasive pests and larvae can hide and ride long distances in firewood. Don't give them a free ride to start a new infestation -- buy firewood where you burn it.

•Plant Carefully. Buy your plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species at all costs.

•Do Not Bring or Mail fresh fruits, vegetables, or plants into your state or another state unless agricultural inspectors have cleared them beforehand.

•Cooperate with any agricultural quarantine restrictions and allow authorized agricultural workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.

•Keep It Clean. Wash outdoor gear and tires between fishing, hunting or camping trips. Clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items when moving from one home to another.

•Learn To Identify. If you see signs of an invasive pest or disease, write down or take a picture of what you see, and then report it at www.HungryPests.com.

•Speak Up. Declare all agricultural items to customs officials when returning from international travel. Call USDA to find out what's allowed:

•(301) 851-2046 for questions about plants

•(301) 851-3300 for questions about animals

The USDA stresses that the more people know about hungry pests, the more they can do to stop them. Go to www.HungryPests.com to learn more, and get involved on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hungrypests.

Source: USDA/APHIS

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.