Why is California so strict about plants being imported??

perennialfan273(zone 5)March 2, 2010

I'm just curious about this. I know that when shipping fruits (and other stuff) there's a chance that there may be some bugs or fungus hiding along with it, but doesn't that plant have the same odds of having insects or diseases as other plants grown in the state?? I just don't understand why they have such strict laws on importing plants.

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Because our number one business is agriculture, and we don't need diseases or pests imported from other areas of the Country or the world. There are diseases and insects that have not been spread here yet, so no, plants already here don't have the same chance of being diseased as plants being shipped in. For example, we do not have "killer bees" in Northern California (yet) but they have been slowly spreading across the US for decades. We certainly don't want them shipped in, both for humans' sake, and because they don't service the flowers nearly as well as European bees, and we would have no crops of almonds, cherries, peaches, etc. without careful bee management.

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 12:53PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

The idea is that there are so many insect and disease pests that could potentially get a foot hold in California and create havoc with both commercial agriculture and ornamental horticulture, as well as upsetting natural balances in wild areas. Foreign insects and diseases don't usually spontaneously appear out of no where, someone brings them in with introduced contaminated plants or plant products. You are correct that there is already a wealth of insects and diseases established here in California, and it is all too easy to find them on nursery plants already offered for sale from California grown plants. The difference being that most of these are already established pests, and not new ones from other countries that may spread rapidly because they have nothing that keeps them in check as they do where they are native.

If your livelihood were at stake from imported non-native pests and diseases and it could potentially wipe out your business or at the very least entail more work and expenses to combat, I'd bet you would have more interest and understanding of the need for strict laws on importing plants. Some examples of pests that are costing millions to combat would include the Mediterreanean Fruit Fly, the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, and the various psyllid insects that attack things like Eucalyptus species and Eugenia shrubs.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 1:02PM
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invasive pests could also be in the egg stage and not be visible, then hatch once they arrive in california and become an agricultural nightmare. california supplies the majority of fruits and vegetable for the united states, think strawberries,almonds,lettuces, etc.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 1:37PM
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Several other states do it also to protect their economy, businesses etc and their native species.
Millions of dollars are being spent to protect the great lakes from non-native species that have infected other waterways. European ships dumping their ballast water is a problem also.
Billions of dollars are spent at all our ports in stopping pests so we don't need the bad guys coming in thru the mail and shipping companies.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 1:53PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

When I go shopping in Medford, OR I have to drive through about 45 min. of Hwy. 199 in extreme northwestern California in order to get back to my home on the southern Oregon coast.

Ironically, the most problematic plant products I might buy are those that actually originated in California in the first place. I have to make sure that I don't buy any citrus or avocados in Medford because when I get to the CA border, I'll have to hand them over...despite the fact that:

1. the came from California to begin with
2. they'd be inside a closed vehicle for the entire 45 minute transit from Oregon town to Oregon town.

It may be a noble objective in theory, but in actual practice, I don't think it works. Living organisms don't confine themselves to the boundaries of political jurisdiction that humans hold in their imaginations. I can't believe that CA wants to spend the money at the northern end of the state to do this (the portal with AZ I can understand). Interdiction is very spotty. A lot of people just get waived through, and if you go after 9:00 p.m. or before 7:00 a.m., the inspection stations are usually closed. Personally I'm more worried about the egress of existing pests from CA into adjoining states than the ingress of new ones.

When I go down to Strybing's plants sales, I have to drive back on Hwy. 101 rather than I-5 to avoid re-entering the state. This despite the fact I have documentation showing the plants were purchased in California earlier that same day. If reason prevailed, I wouldn't mind, but like so many bureaucratic systems it relies on prescriptive practices that are often pointless for any given case.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 2:42PM
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perennialfan273(zone 5)

See what I mean?? Not only is this a waste of money for the state, but there's nothing we can do about it. As Dick stated, eventually new species will just enter on their own, so why don't we just let nature take its course??

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 4:25PM
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It's not a waste of money. They may enter on their own but we don't have to enable, help them do it or allow it. If it was money wasted the agricultural business in CA would have been dead years ago. Just recently they found a pest at the Long Beach port.

I once had a discussion with a wildlife biologist about the wolf killings. Her response was if the wolves stayed inside Yellowstone they wouldn't be killed.
My very sarcastic response was...wolves can't read. She didn't understand what I meant. ugh!
So again, yes creatures will wander but sometimes they must be contained if possible.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 4:42PM
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it's true, they don't want diseases and pests to become a problem. This is what California relies on the most and the state needs it.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 5:12PM
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There are also intra-state restrictions on plant/produce movement. Here in SD county, parts of county are restricted because of Mediteranian fruit fly. "Just letting nature take its course" must come from someone who does not have close association with the agri-economy. If an attempt to stop any kind of deleterious behaviors/organism,is a waste of time, why have any laws at all? CA does a lot of stupid things, but protecting our agri-economy is not one of them.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 6:39PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

"...so why don't we just let nature take its course??"

"Nature, Mr. Alnut, is what we are put on this earth to rise above." --Katharine Hepburn in African Queen

Trucking plants to new places is social, not natural. The wants of a few gardeners are insignificant in relation to possible impacts on California agriculture.

It makes a very big difference if serious pests like the glassy-winged sharpshooter get here today rather than in thirty years. Please, keep your nasty Japanese beetles and other fauna to yourself. I voted for the bozos who passed those California laws and I support them (the laws, not the bozos).


    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 8:16PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Yes the laws as they are enforced have loop holes you could literally drive a truck through, and often count on people being honorable rather than devious. People who don't see the rational reasons are more usually the ones that value personal benefit over community good, particularly if it negatively impacts what they want to do...

It is pretty difficult to stop someone from acting in their own personal interests if they fail to see the reasonableness of the law, but I like to think that people can be persuaded that it is in their own interests to play along. One can always import seed with a phytosanitary permit legally if it is impossible to get the live plant across a border, and inspected seed with a phyto permit is much less likely to be a source of infestation, but may still be a potentially invasive plant if let loose in a new environment.

The laws do allow plants to be imported from out of state if they were grown per regulations regarding no natural soil, no contact with the ground,(must be grown on raised tables), and inspected and given a passing phytosanitary certificate of good health. This is particularly important to prevent things like Fire ants being brought into California from southern states, which unfortunately has already happened multiple times and has established a beach head in southern California.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 2:51AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

You should also be aware that movement of plant material is also restricted within California. Here in the wine country all nursery stock from the southern counties is inspected and returned if any Glassy winged Sharpshooters or their eggs are found. This pest is devestating to the grape growers. Among several counties the movement of Oak firewood or other hosts of the Sudden Oak Death disease are restricted. The shipment of plants found to be hosts of this disease, and there are many, are not allowed into many eastern states. This has been very hard on the California nursery trade. As gardeners even though not commercially involved, we should be active in supporting these regulations that are protecting our activities. Al

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 9:30AM
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This creature is allowed to be sold inside and into CA, even though it is harmful to plantlife ...

Here is a link that might be useful: Walking Stick - pet/pest

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 10:07AM
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These are gardeners' experiences in SD County with this plant predator. Talk about unintended consequences and casual/indifferent/ignorant attitudes toward those consequences. When children or teachers or even researchers get tired of or finish with these creatures, but feel squeemish about 'killing' them, throw them out in the yard...YIKES!

BTW -- Renee LOL for "Nature" quote from African Queen.

Here is a link that might be useful: CA garden forum -

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 10:30AM
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ashleysf(9 San Jose,CA)

The thing is, California's economy already sucks. Why does anyone have to carelessly and inconsiderately bring disease causing pathogens and insects into the state and cause more havoc to the mainstay of our economy (agriculture) and make it worse???
dick_sonia, the laws are there for a reason. They may inconvenience a few, but in the long run, they do more good than harm. Think about it - it is very much like airport security checking - some terrorists and bombs may sneak in, some innocent people will be hassled by them, but they do the checking and enforcing for a good reason.
We can deal with pathogens and insects if and when they migrate from other states, let us not bring them in and screw california more.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 1:42PM
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perennialfan273(zone 5)

It's funny how everyone says that they're trying to "prevent" an outbreak or infestation from occuring when the government has already failed to do so. Many of the species that you've tried to hard to keep out (like the fire ants) are already here!! Please explain to me something good that the government has done to help your economy (as far as plants are concerned) these past few years, because honestly, I'm not seeing it.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 3:14PM
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"I hate the government" discussions are SO off-topic for the California Gardening Forum! If you want to discuss this, please take your question/statement to a more appropriate forum!

And now, back to gardening.............

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 7:44PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

I am not questioning the justifiability of the cause, but the validty behind any policy is predicated on the assumption that the implementation practices prescribed by the policy do, in fact, work.

I'm in favor of abating terrorism, but I don't favor the war in Iraq or, for that matter, the Global War on Terror, because I don't think they work.

I'm in favor of improving public eduction, but I don't support No Child Left Behind because I don't think it addresses the causative deficits of educational failure.

I want a sound economy, but I don't support policies based on trickle-down theory because I don't believe that it reflects the reality of how economic markets actually function.

Let's not be so naive as to think just because there is a legitimate concern to be addressed, that any regulatory prescription that policy makers might dream up has presumptive efficacy. Protecting agribusiness concerns and preventing the spread of alien species are worthwhile objectives, but to think that peek-a-boo vehicle inspections make a significant dent in the those problems just doesn't pass the straight-face test.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 1:49AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

When I drove up to Oregon, I was thinking of stopping at the Medford Nursery, but there was no time. I am surprised to find there is an inspection on the way back, because I took 101 back to site see. I did not buy plants on that trip. I was thinking of getting a dwarf conifer at a Nursery in Grants Pass, but it was closed during the time I was in Grants Pass. I am glad I found out this information.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 10:14AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

When I lived in Artichoke country near Castroville I used to send my brother a case of chokes when in season. Although he lived in California near Yreka, United Parcel started delivering from Medford which meant the inspectors had to open the plainly labeled crate and inspect every choke. They arrived late and badly mauled. I gave up the practice of sending him produce. Never the less I still support the inspection efforts. Al

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 9:59AM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

Quoting from our local newspaper, the Fallbrook/Bonsall Village News March 4, 2010:
"During a one-day enforcement effort targeting agriculture, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers and agriculture specialists stopped 112 vehicles with prohibited items, including flowers, herbs, fruits, vegetables and fresh meat.
Officials found a fairly typical collection of items brought by cross-border travelers that are restricted or prohibited from entering the U.S. from Mexico including:
apples, candied apples, avocados, flowers (choisya, chrysanthemums, juniper), citrus peels, grapefruit, lemon grass, mandarins, mangoes, oranges, pears, potted plants, plums, potatoes, sugar cane, sweet limes, tangerines, wheat stems, bacon, chicarrones, chorizo, consomme, cueritos, chicken eggs, turkey eggs, ham, hot dogs, and skunk meat.
Officials also inspected a number of items that are allowed into the country after a thorough inspection declares them pest-free, including firewood, herbs, palm leaves, and flowers, such as myrtle. CBP agriculture specialist seized beans from one traveler after they were found to be infested with pests.
CBP officials issued four warning letters to SENTRI participants who declared flowers that were, in fact, prohibited from entering the U.S, and issued two monetary penalties to non-SENTRI travelers, one for a person carrying undeclared turkey eggs and chorizo, and the other for someone with live propagative plants (intended for growing new plants).
After inspecting all of the products, CBP agriculture specialists found a total of 13 insects, three plant diseases, two seeds, fresh lemon grass, and citrus leaves that required further testing and inspection by other agencies..........
Oranges, for example, are a potential host for exotic fruit flies that don't yet have a foothold in the U.S. and would be devastating to the California citrus industry. We've found Chrysanthemum White Rust and Gladiolus Rust- high risk agriculture diseases for the flower industry- on some bouquets intercepted at the border from travelers arriving from Mexico."

I have a nursery and nurseries are inspected to keep the plants they sell to you free of diseases, pests and noxious weeds. So when you buy plants and take them home you can be more assured that you're not introducing problems to your property.
I also live within 60 miles of the U.S.- Mexico border which means that we have a couple of border checkpoints to go through if we're traveling North. Yes, it's a bother, yes there are ways around it that are not always checked, yes, the checkpoints are not always 'open' for checking vehicles, so it's obviously not foolproof, but without them, there would be no protection at all.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 3:43PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

"it's obviously not foolproof, but without them, there would be no protection at all."

Isn't that kind of like saying that a condom with a hole in it is better than no condom at all?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 10:40PM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

I don't know...maybe fewer of those little wigglers get through.....I think in an ideal world people would know what they should and shouldn't do and act accordingly, think for the good of the many instead of what *I* want. Until then, I suppose we have to have rules and laws to try to keep things going as well as possible.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 1:04AM
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dicksonia....Your right .... laws and regulations don't work! Let's do away with all of them, as it is obviously futile to pass laws that some people will always flout.

So, beside the 'condom with a hole' argument, what methods would you suggest to protect CA from invasive plant/insect species? You know what does NOT work. So, do you know what WILL work?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 6:09AM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

borderbarb...OMG! I wasn't even aware of the walking stick issue. Thank you for that link. I've been gardening for 40-some years and have never encountered one...extremely lucky, I guess, living in areas they don't inhabit. I live in Fallbrook and will have to check into this issue more with local gardeners, garden club, S.D Hort. I'm wondering if there's been a study as to how far they've spread, into what areas...a map? We're in the La Jolla, Pt. Loma, O.B. areas frequently and I will now be looking at things in a different light entirely (also brushing off my clothing, showering immediately after leaving...lol..)This really isn't a laughing matter at all, extremely serious and I cannot believe there hasn't been a concentrated effort on the part of AG officials to eradicate them. I also sympathize with those gardeners who may move into the affected areas unknowing......

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 11:03AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Yes, obviously since the laws don't work - after all, drunk driving laws haven't stamped out drunk drivers, have they? - by all means let's eliminate all the laws that inconvenience anyone.

But when the CA state agriculture industry is devastated by pests and your food costs go up 400%, don't come whining back to us, please.....

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 1:50PM
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"don't come whining back to us, please....."
Hmmm.... "US" .... who is that? Would that be those who pointed to the flaws in present system? Or to those who proposed a more perfect way to protect agri-economy? [I missed that post]
It is inarguable that people break laws.[duh] Also inarguable is that, short of a police state, the well-functioning of our society DEPENDS on the basic honesty and good will of the majority of citizens.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 6:12PM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

I think 'Us' refers to those of us who see the necessity of having the rules for inspection and why people need to try to abide by them. That without these rules our Ag industry would be more at risk and even those out of state who see these rules as ineffective and un-necessary would face possible higher food prices as a result.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 6:40PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

Actually the drunk-driving analogy provides a useful illustration. Like many laws, the strategy of interdiction is based on probable cause for intervention. If a law-enforcement officer notices an erratic driver, he pulls him over.

Now let's place the method of intervention into the control-of-passage model used by CDFA. Every person who leaves their home driveway and tries to access a freeway must first pass through a sobriety checkpoint station where they roll down their window and answer the attendant's question as to whether or not they've had anything to drink. If their speech is slurred or the smell of alcohol wafts heavily out of the car, they might be given a Breathalyzer test, but otherwise the intervention is based on self-report. Does that sound like an effective policy?

One commonly cited index of policy efficacy is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Effective policies tend to have few unintended consequences. Policies that have lots of unintended consequences are typically not very effective with regard to their legislative intent.

So my solution would be to replace perfunctory inspections with probable-cause intervention. If someone with an Oregon license plate buys California avocados at a grocery store in Oregon and needs to drive though a small section of Del Norte County to get back home to another town in Oregon, there's no likelihood that allowing that to happen will devastate the Del Norte County avocado industry, so there's no probable cause for interdiction (remember, the avocados CAME from the state they're re-entering in the first place). For that matter, having inspection stations in the northern half of the state at all is really pointless because there aren't any insect pests in Oregon or Nevada that aren't already in California. As I said before, it's the surrounding states that should be worried about California's pests spreading out. Having inspection stations along Oregon and Nevada ports of entry is like having an alarm system outside San Quentin to keep criminals at large from breaking in.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2010 at 2:39AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Dick Sonia,
While there may be no avocado orchards in Oregon or Washington, I would disagree that these states aren't a potential source of infestation for California. You are forgetting that so many people smuggle in plants, seeds and fruit and vegetables from all over the world via air travel, and then can easily drive across a state border and be a potential source of infestation. Also diseases and pests that may require a warmer climate such as California's, can also easily establish a beach head inside greenhouses, and spread throughout the country. So it doesn't really follow that any state is more at risk from California pests than vice versa. All parts of the country are equally accessible to bone headed people who bring in infected materials without thinking of the potential harm, and can then easily cross state borders and spread the risk beyond their initial entry point.

While diseases such as Sudden Oak Death are already here in California, they also occur in Washington and Oregon states, and infected plants from nurseries there if not inspected could still easily spread this disease to parts of California where it doesn't occur (yet). So your analogies don't make total sense, and we are back to relying on an imperfect system that assumes people will cooperate in their own self interest. Education of the public is the key factor, making people feel that it IS in their self interest to cooperate and attempt to keep pests out.

The alternative is resorting to police state inspection policies. Given how there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for cooperation and the public good anymore, it may come to that.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2010 at 11:24AM
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You stated:
"there's no likelihood that allowing that to happen will devastate the Del Norte County avocado industry, so there's no probable cause for interdiction (remember, the avocados CAME from the state they're re-entering in the first place)."

This is likelihood for a problem in storage transport by the retail and shipping industries. Who really knows for sure where those avocadoes where once they first left CA and what they were exposed to.

You stated:
"For that matter, having inspection stations in the northern half of the state at all is really pointless because there aren't any insect pests in Oregon or Nevada that aren't already in California."

Can you prove there this about the insect pests! It is not just only what may live in OR or NE it is what could come into there from who knows where.

Is the inspection really that much of a problem or would you rather pay $5 a lb for them from Chile.

Remember the terrorist bomber that attempted to come in from Canada to WA and was headed for LAX. The same analogy applies...we have no idea where stuff is coming from or where its been. People will continue to exploit the weakest area.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2010 at 12:10PM
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Hmmm. Just out of curiosity...does the San Diego/Tijuana border crossing have a California Agricultural Inspection Station? I'm assuming they must but I've never noticed one or even ever been pulled over to look for fruits or vegetables...same goes for Tecate and Mexicali border crossing although it's been a number of years since I've passed through those crossings. It's my understanding that this is one of the busiest border crossings in the world.

I do go to Arizona at the Yuma crossing fairly frequently and the California Agricultural Inspection Station has been closed when I go through there every single time...doesn't matter what time of day or night.

So I can sympathize with what Dick_sonia is saying. Rules and regulations are only as good as their weakest link. Personally, if I were running the California Agricultural Inspection system and my resources were spread thin, at the very least I would focus on those crossings where the state was most vulnerable to infestations.

Actually, I've read where a lot of these infestations come through bulk cargo from overseas at ports of entry.


    Bookmark   March 7, 2010 at 2:20PM
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To the original poster. The reason for the policies is because a majority of policy makers decided that, "We have to do something."

Whether that is indeed the case cannot be discussed here because of constraints imposed by the forum rules.

Which leaves us with: what do you think we ought to do instead?


    Bookmark   March 11, 2010 at 5:30PM
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