Emergency Crews Respond to MT Crop “Crisis”


The following is a story submitted by the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Pest Management Bureau:

The incident command post at a Bozeman hotel was humming with activity as participants in Operation Crop Rescue, a full scale emergency response exercise, worked to address a plant pest situation involving the fictitious Finnish Fred Leafhopper.  The objective of the exercise was to put into practice incident command system skills that agriculture officials learned during emergency response training. 

Fifty participants from local, state, federal and Montana State University entities worked together August 16-18 honing their skills during an emergency exercise that involved an actual area nursery, a city park and potato and wheat farms in the Manhattan area. 

Crews conducted “trace” work to track make-believe insect and disease pests to their source and assess the scope of an infestation before developing a containment and control plan.  Exercise controllers and evaluators didn’t make the task easy for them.  While responding to the emergency, participants also had to deal with fictitious senators and county commissioners requesting briefings, public demands for information, a chlorine gas accident on a highway and survey crews being chased by a wild animal.

Three state employees, Mike Garverich of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation; Dr. Jeanne Rankin of MSU Extension; and Dr. Bill Layton of the Department of Livestock, compare notes when checking plants at Westscape Nursery near Belgrade during an emergency pest exercise this week in Gallatin County.

“Why all this practice? Because we don’t live in a perfect world where plants grow strong and healthy, the weather is perfect and markets yield a premium price every year,” says Donna Rise, chief of the Pest Management Bureau at the Montana Department of Agriculture.

Many invasive pests spread with help from humans, Rise notes.  For example, Japanese beetles several years ago established a population in Billings after apparently hitching a ride from the Midwest on cargo aircraft landing at Logan International Airport.

Personnel from several state and federal agencies dispatch agricultural pest responders and discuss planning strategy at an exercise used to train personnel to respond to new pest outbreaks. The exercise was led by the Montana Department of Agriculture and the USDA Plant Protection & Quarantine program.

Real world pests that could have serious future consequences in Montana include the emerald ash borer, which hitchhikes under the bark of firewood carried by campers and hunters.  The brightly colored insect could decimate green ash trees, the primary boulevard species in towns such as Bozeman and Helena.  The insect already exists in several Midwestern states including Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and a few counties in Minnesota, causing 41 million trees to be cut down.

While we all hope that Montana doesn’t have to experience the damage and economic impact that these invasive pests can cause, we want to be prepared to respond, says Rise.

Source:  MT Department of Agriculture Pest Management Bureau

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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