Oregon fights to head off invading Japanese beetles

PORTLAND — Oregon has drawn a line at the Portland airport against the Japanese beetle, an invasive species that has been spreading across the country, feeding on turf, fruit trees, berries and hops.

Thirty-two of the insects were trapped last year near Portland International Airport and eight this year, The Oregonian reports.

About $300,000 will be spent in Oregon this year to stop Japanese beetles, believed to have arrived in shipments from infested states.

But the state estimates that if Japanese beetles go unchecked, the cost could be $33 million a year from destroyed plants and decimated turf and from quarantine measures.

The only other insect the state Agriculture Department worries about as much as the Japanese beetle is the gypsy moth, whose larvae eats through forests.

"We have zero tolerance for Japanese beetles," said Helmuth Rogg, the supervisor of the state's insect pest prevention and management program.

The adult beetles are green and brown and about the size of a thumbnail. Rogg believes those the department trapped actually grew up in Oregon soil, so the state has increased its efforts.

In May about 40 acres around the airport were sprayed with pesticide.

"We don't do that lightly. But you have to consider, if we don't do anything, we will have everybody else spraying," said Rogg. "It's the lesser evil."

The only natural insecticide is milky spore, soil-dwelling bacteria that kill Japanese beetle grubs, but Rogg said their effectiveness depends too heavily on uncontrollable environmental factors.

Japanese beetles likely hitched a ride to America in 1916 on a boatload of irises.

They first exploded into large, destructive populations east of the Mississippi River.

Slowly, they are moving West. Recently, 2,000 were found in Idaho.

State and federal agriculture officials can check only a few of the planes coming from Eastern states, so they work with private shippers, including United Parcel Service and Federal Express, to try to control invaders.

UPS, for example, has a 60-person Japanese beetle-exclusion team at its Kentucky shipping hub.

Every crew member, plane and shipment headed West gets checked for beetles.

Rick Adkins, the UPS beetle exclusion supervisor, estimates they catch about 60,000 each year.

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