UN guide seeks to prevent spread of forest-damaging pests

10 November 2011

A guide published today by the United Nations aims to help countries prevent forest-damaging pests from spreading to new areas as a result of climate change and growing global trade.

The guide, put together by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), was presented by the agency in Beijing, during the Second Asia-Pacific Forestry Week.

“Due to climate change, previously inhospitable sites can become suitable for ‘alien’ pests that are accidentally transported through international trade in wood products, seeds or nursery plants – as well as trade in other commodities packaged with wood materials,” said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, FAO’s Assistant Director-General for Forestry.

“The guide provides suggestions on how to reduce the risk of pest spread and to implement effective pest management strategies at every step of the forest commodities chain,” he added.

At least 35 million hectares of forest are damaged by outbreaks of insect pests each year.

According to a news release issued by FAO, one of the factors that have exacerbated the spread of pests has been the increase in global trade. Between 1992 and 2008, the volume of wood products traded internationally surged by 125 per cent.

In addition, rising summer temperatures caused by global warming have accelerated insects’ capacity to reproduce and improved their chances of surviving winters. In Canada, for example, years of mild winter have increased the survival rate of the mountain pine beetle, and infestations in British Columbia province are causing massive destruction of pines. The pest has reportedly affected some 17.5 million hectares and destroyed 725 million cubic metres of timber in the past 20 years.

The Guide to Implementation of Phytosanitary Standards in Forestry provides various ways to cope with these threats. Careful surveillance, better forest management and improved harvest and transport operations are among the things countries need to implement, as well as establishing international standards to ensure the safe movement of forest commodities.

The guide, which was written by an international group of scientists and plant health experts, is intended for policy-makers, managers and forest workers. In addition, FAO has stated its focus will now shift to strengthening individual countries’ capacities to implement the guide.

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