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Developing exotic pest surveillance capacity in high-risk areas across Australia

A collaborative effort between government, the forestry industry and the community to enable early detection of exotic forest pests and improve the likelihood of their eradication has completed its first year of surveillance.

Those behind the initiative report that its activities are progressing well and will play a valuable role in mitigating economic and environmental risk.

The National Forest Pest Surveillance Program – which is soon to be renamed Forest Watch Australia – was launched on 1 July 2022, with the knowledge gathered through its activities enabling the industry to speedily manage or mitigate new pest incursions in Australia.

Forest grower levy increase

The program was enabled by last year’s forest grower levy increase for both research, development and extension (RD&E), and biosecurity, with matched funds from the federal government. This increase was made possible thanks to overwhelming approval from Australia’s forest growers during a vote on the matter.

FWPA supported the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) who were the project leaders of the process surrounding the proposed levy increase, to conduct widespread industry consultation before the vote.

While the additional funds generated for RD&E are now being managed by FWPA, the biosecurity funds are managed by Plant Health Australia (PHA). It is these funds that have enabled PHA to implement the National Forest Pest Surveillance Program.

“Ensuring all forestry stakeholders work together in partnership to drive improvements in biosecurity to protect Australia’s forest and tree assets is critical,” said AFPA Forest Biosecurity Manager Paco Tovar. Mr Tovar was instrumental in establishing the initiative.

“Australia has a robust plant biosecurity system designed to protect plant production systems, including agriculture and forestry, which together are worth an estimated $25 billion annually,” he said.

“Australia’s forests represent the seventh largest forest estate in the world and encompass native, planted and urban forests, as well as woodlands. These forests make a significant contribution to Australia’s economy, environment and community.

“Increasing levels of trade, movement of people and commodities, as well as climate change, are all contributing to an upward trend in exotic forest pest establishments in Australia, resulting in significant economic, environmental and amenity costs.

“In short, Australia’s plant biosecurity system faces pressure in mitigating the risks posed by exotic forest pests.”

National Forest Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy and Implementation Plan

To confront these challenges, a National Forest Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy and Implementation Plan was developed in 2018, in consultation with growers and government.

This strategy provided a vision that has led to the establishment of the National Forest Pest Surveillance Program, with the key stakeholder objectives being to:

  • improve forest pest surveillance coordination, capacity and capability across stakeholders
  • optimise surveillance efforts using a risk-based approach
  • maximise resource efficiency through stakeholder partnerships.

The overarching aim of the program – which is overseen by a steering group made up of industry stakeholder and government representatives – is to increase the rates of early detection of exotic forest pests that circumvent biosecurity controls.

Critical to the program’s establishment were several research projects funded through FWPA in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Environmental Biosecurity Division.

As part of the surveillance program, traps have been installed in all capital cities, in and around airports and ports. The experts responsible for monitoring these traps remain on the lookout for any unfamiliar insects, while also observing the surrounding trees for signs of potential incursion.

“PHA and its government partners have done a great job with the delivery of the program activities during its inaugural year,” Mr Tovar said.

“The program has built up Australia’s forest pest surveillance capability to improve the chances of successful pest eradication, and mitigate the impact on the economic, environmental and amenity values of Australia’s trees and forests.”

The program is funded for an initial five years, with the potential to continue beyond that, pending the results of a review during the fourth year.

Posted Date: July 17, 2023

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