It’s the holiday season, so don’t pack a pest

Gig Conaughton

County of San Diego Communications Office

When is a gift not a gift? When it’s carrying pests and destruction.

So do everyone a favor and don’t pack a pest.

The holidays are a time to travel and to exchange and send gifts. But people travel so fast in the modern world that they can carry or ship a bug or virus thousands of miles in a matter of hours. A thoughtful gift could wreck agricultural crops, force quarantines and hurt the environment.

A homemade holiday fruit basket could carry creepy mealy bugs. A clipping from grandma’s wreath might be laden with gypsy moth eggs. Giant whiteflies could hide in hand-picked poinsettias. Holiday citrus from a backyard tree or another country could carry the citrus greening virus that could wipe out the citrus industry.

In 2001, the Asian tiger mosquito, a vector known to help transmit diseases like Zika virus, hitchhiked its way into the U.S. in shipments of ornamental “Lucky” bamboo plants from overseas.

In 2016, the county’s detector dog inspector teams sniffed out, intercepted and stopped 23 different invasive pests, including ficus thrips from Spain, Oriental fruit flies from Hawaii, apple maggots from New York and leafhoppers from Florida – just at U.S. Postal Service offices.

San Diego County continues to battle invasive pests like the gold-spotted oak borer, the light brown apple moth, the South American palm weevil and the Asian citrus psyllid that can carry citrus greening, to protect the local $1.75 billion agriculture industry.

So, here are a couple of handy guidelines to follow while packing for the holidays.

First, don’t pack a pest.

While traveling – whether it’s out of state or out of the country – leave whatever is found on the trip right where it was found. Don’t bring home a keepsake clipping from Aunt Penny’s holiday wreath, those bulbs found in Florida, any citrus branches, leaves or stems from anywhere or avocado leaves from Mexico.

Don’t transport any fresh, raw, uncooked, untreated foodstuffs, seeds, beans, nuts, rice, dried fruit, decorative greenery, untreated wood items, animal products or soil from almost any foreign country.

For anyone who may have accidentally packed some plant or animal item away, declare those products when asked by an agricultural inspector if there’s anything in the luggage.

Remember, don’t pack a pest.

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