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Forest Disturbance Processes

Pest Risk of Wood Packaging Material

Research Issue

High-risk cargo is unloaded from containers after arrival at US ports of entry and inspected for pests, special inspection warehouses used at the port of Long Beach, California. Photo by Robert Haack, USDA Forest Service
Wood packaging materials (WPM), such as pallets and crating, are widely used in international trade.  Because WPM is often made from recently cut trees, there is a risk that live insects and disease organisms can be transported inadvertently from one country to another.  Most of the non-native bark- and wood-infesting insects now in the United States are thought to have arrived in WPM.  In recognition of this high-risk pathway for the movement of pests, new international standards known as ISPM-15 were adopted in 2002, requiring that all WPM used in international trade be either heat treated or fumigated prior to export and marked with the appropriate ISPM-15 logo.  More recently, microwave treatment was added as a treatment option, and other techniques are now being evaluated.  North America began full implementation of ISPM-15 in 2006.

ISPM-15 treatments are aimed at killing pests that are present in wood at the time of treatment.  At first, ISPM-15 did not require elimination of all bark on WPM and therefore several countries raised concerns about the possibility that insects could infest WPM after treatment, especially when bark was present.  This concern was brought to the attention of “International Forestry Quarantine Research Group” (IFQRG) to which former Unit member Robert Haack was a founding member.  IFQRG has worldwide participation, including several researchers who address questions related to ISPM-15.  Various members of IFQRG designed studies to address the above-stated concern and related issues.  In a related study sponsored by “National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis” (NCEAS) at the University of California Santa Barbara, an international group of researchers, including Robert Haack, was formed to investigate the ‘‘Effects of trade policy on management of non-native forest pests and pathogens.’’

Our Research

During the 2000s, we used various USDA databases for pests intercepted at US ports of entry to identify which types of insect borers were most frequently intercepted in WPM, how their occurrence was related to the presence and size of any residual bark, and how the frequency of pest interceptions at US ports changed after implementation of ISPM-15.  

Briefly, we found (1) that bark beetles were the most commonly intercepted borers in WPM, followed by longhorned beetles, (2) that the dominant countries of origin for the intercepted borers has changed over time with most borers being of European origin in the 1980s and 1990s but in the 2000s being mostly of Asian and Mexican origin, (3) that bark- and wood-boring insects of quarantine significance could infest and develop in logs and lumber after heat treatment when bark was presented, (4) that the size of residual pieces of bark influenced which types of borers could infest and develop in heat-treated WPM, (5) that live borers were present in WPM marked with the ISPM-15 logo that had arrived at US ports and were most common in WPM with residual bark, and (6) that the overall frequency of live borers in WPM treated to ISPM-15 standards resulted in a lowering of live pests in WPM.

Expected Outcomes

Results of our studies have had international impact.  Identifying which types of borers were most commonly present in WPM allowed international plant health agencies to focus on the most important groups of insects associated with WPM.  Moreover, our finding that borers could infest WPM after treatment, especially when bark was present, resulted in ISPM15 being changed to restrict the maximum size of any residual patches of bark to less than 50 square centimeters (e.g., about the size of a credit card).  In addition, our finding that the frequency of live borers in WPM was reduced after implementation of ISPM-15 has shown the value of such international efforts in reducing pest movement through trade.

Research Results

Haack, Robert A.; Britton, Kerry O.; Brockerhoff, Eckelhard G.; Cavey, Joseph F.; Garrett, Lynn J.; Kimberley, Mark; Lowenstein, Frank; Nuding, Amelia; Olson, Lars J.; Tumer, James; Vasilaky, Kathryn N. 2014. Effectiveness of the international phytosanitary standard ISPM No. 15 on reducing wood borer infestation rates in wood packaging material entering the United States. PLoS ONE. 9(5): e96611. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096611 

Haack, Robert A.; Rabaglia, Robert J. 2013. Exotic bark and ambrosia beetles in the USA: Potential and current invaders. In Potential Invasive Pests of Agricultural Crop Species. Edited by J. E. Peña. CAB International, Wallingford, UK. Pp 48-78.

Haack, Robert A.; Hérard, Franck; Sun, Jinghua; Turgeon, Jean J. 2010. Managing invasive populations of Asian longhorned beetle and citrus longhorned beetle: a worldwide perspective. Annual Review of Entomology 55: 521-546.

Haack, Robert A.; Petrice, Toby R. 2009. Bark- and wood-borer colonization of logs and lumber after heat treatment to ISPM 15 specifications: the role of residual bark. Journal of Economic Entomology 102: 1075-1084. 

Haack, Robert A.; Petrice, Toby R.; Nzokou, Pascal; Kamdem, Pascal. 2007. Do insects infest wood packing material with bark following heat-treatment?  Pages 145-149 in Alien Invasive Species and International Trade. H. Evans and T. Oszako, eds. Forest Research Institute, Sêkocin Stary, Poland.

Haack, Robert A. 2006. Exotic bark- and wood-boring Coleoptera in the United States: recent establishments and interceptions. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 36: 269-288. 

Haack, Robert A. 2001. Intercepted Scolytidae (Coleoptera) at U.S. ports of entry: 1985 – 2000. Integrated Pest Management Reviews 6: 253-282.


Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Robert Haack, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station Research Entomologist
  • Toby Petrice, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station Entomologist

Research Partners

Last Modified: February 8, 2016