National Forum on Biological Control: A Long Time In Coming

By Bob Simpson, NASF Forest Health and Science Committee Staff

Biological control (biocontrol) is the purposeful use of natural enemies of dangerous, damaging and otherwise undesirable pests through parasitoids, predators and pathogens to reduce the risk and damage caused by harmful organisms to acceptable levels. It is not a new science; early uses include ancient China’s employment of the Pharoh’s Ant to control stored grain pests. Biocontrol has been an important component in managing undesirable pests and pathogens in the U.S. for decades. However, some in the scientific community feel that much of these efforts were slowly becoming siloed. The USDA Forest Service Forest Health Program (USFS FHP) saw an opportunity and took the reins to bring players in this community together to share experiences, accomplishments and challenges.

Over the course of the last year, USFS FHP, North American Invasive Species Management Association and the National Association of State Foresters worked together to organize an event where experts in the science of biocontrol could come together: the first National Forum on Biological Control, which took place March 12–14, in Annapolis, Maryland.

During the planning process, organizers agreed that the Forum’s ultimate goal was to build relationships and synergy amongst leaders in the biocontrol community. The event, therefore, did not have a virtual attendance option and the agenda structure naturally encouraged in-person networking opportunities. Although called a “National Forum,” this event brought together over 90 scientists from multiple countries and agencies to share information about the latest research, management techniques and policy in biological control. These agencies included USFS FHP, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Department of the Interior, NASF and multiple universities in the US and abroad. Bob Simpson, NASF Forest Science & Health Committee staff, represented NASF during the planning phase and as a presenter at the Forum.

The first-of-its-kind forum was divided into three areas of subject matter: Research, Management and Policy and Impacts. Over the course of three days, 53 presentations and panel discussions were offered as well as multiple networking opportunities.

Although not every session had a forestry focus, other topics had relevant applications to the field.  Research topics on the first day included using drones to assess natural enemy impacts, the role of state facilities in biocontrol implementation and an in-depth look at the APHIS emerald ash borer biocontrol rearing facility in Brighton, Michigan.

Day two focused on management and covered some well-known forestry issues. Sessions included biocontrol of hemlock wooly adelgid, integrating biocontrol and insecticide treatments to manage emerald ash borer in urban environments, and the use of bioherbicides to mitigate the meltdown of tree-of-heaven and slow the spread of spotted lantern fly.

The final day focused on policy and impacts, including agency program updates. Here, Simpson presented on behalf of NASF, bringing to light the boots-on-the-ground value NASF member agencies provide with their direct contact capabilities to family forest owners through education and outreach as well as monitoring and treatments of invasive species.

Some trends that emerged over the course of the three-day forum include insufficient funding, significant delays in refilling positions, inadequate research capacity, lack of brick-and-mortar infrastructure, and declining college enrollments in biocontrol-related studies. As a direct result of the Forum, Simpson and the NASF Forest Science Health Committee are developing a “Statement of Needs” document to assist NASF and other agencies and universities as they meet with Congress and congressional budgeting agencies as they seek funding to fill these gaps.

On the final day it became clear that this first national gathering of the biocontrol community was a resounding success. When the meeting was formally adjourned, participants did not leave the auditorium, but stayed to discuss the meeting, results and continued to exchange technical information and ideas among themselves. As a result, a new planning work group has been assembled and is in process of developing the next national forum. It was apparent to all that the National Forum on Biological Control was a long time in coming.

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