SALT LAKE CITY — When you haul in that Christmas tree to decorate, you may be bringing more than just holiday joy into your home.
Nestled amongst the branches there might possibly be an egg sack belonging to the pine shoot beetle, an invasive pest on the watch list by agriculture regulators across the country because it stunts the growth of trees.
Utah’s Agriculture Commissioner Kerry Gibson has a simple plea to the public — obtain your tree from inside Utah’s boundaries.
“These types of pests can decimate a forest,” he said. “It comes down to being aware that you should not go across state lines and bring in a Christmas tree. Please don’t do that, even as cool as you think it is.”
A native of Europe, the pine shoot beetle is one of the most destructive pine tree pests out there and was first discovered in the United States in 1992 at a Christmas tree farm near Cleveland, Ohio.
So far, it has not made it into Utah, and officials want to keep it that way.
Kris Watson, the insect program manager and state entomologist with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said regular Christmas tree lot inspections and public awareness have been key to keeping the pine shoot beetle at bay.
If a vendor’s trees are determined to be hosts for any invasive pests, the state will shut that vendor down to stop the bugs’ spread.
The consequences otherwise could be costly.
Watson said in states where the pest is found, it becomes onerous for Christmas tree lot vendors and others in the wood products industry to make sure the pest doesn’t cross boundaries.
“If a producer of this nursery stock has this infestation, your cost of doing business is going to go way up,” Watson said.
Gibson added that it is easy for pests to travel via imported products and then create threats for urban forests.
“The point is anytime we bring a forest product across state lines we have the possibility of bringing pests that are not native to our environment. We have programs set up to protect our environment by certifying those products are pest free,” he said. “We just encourage everyone to not bring trees, firewood or anything else from a forest without going through the proper process.”
Watson said the agency also keeps an eye out for the invasive gypsy moth, which the state was able to eradicate in the late 1990s.
“I don’t know how much they spent on it, but there was a lot of money and effort spent on it,” he said.
Since then, only one gypsy moth has been found in Utah, three years ago in Davis County.
“Most people don’t think about pathways for invasive species,” Watson said. “They see a beautiful Christmas tree or piece of wood furniture and don’t realize it could be a carrier for an unwelcome insect.”
Watson urged consumers to inspect Christmas trees for pests prior to purchase; watch for and collect any unusual insects that may emerge from a tree and contact the state agency with any concerns.