Talking to the Source: A Conversation with Leigh Greenwood of The Nature Conservancy

*Editor’s note: The viewpoint and statements of the following post may not reflect the views of Nature’s Packaging, however, we are always committed to providing an open forum for all members of the forest and forest products community.

What does your organization do, and why is solid wood packaging an area of interest to it?

The Nature Conservancy is a global nonprofit with a mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. This means that we are an organization working around the world to protect all ecosystems from many types of damage- and forests are an incredibly important ecosystem.

Forests face many threats- illegal deforestation, forest fires, drought, attacks by insects and diseases, and more- and unfortunately, solid wood packaging can become a threat to the health of forests when it is infested or contaminated (either in the wood or on the surface of the packaging) with tree-killing insects and diseases.

What is your role? What does your day look like?

I’m the Forest Health Program Director, which means I spend my days working with colleagues and partners all around North America on the issues where I think we can make the greatest difference on the issue of non-native insects and diseases that reduce the health, safety, and beauty of our trees and forests.

Most days, I spend my time emailing and video conferencing with partners on my current focus areas; pests that can be better managed via improved firewood outreach and regulations, and pests that can be transported accidentally as part of the global supply chain.

Why do we need ISPM-15? What has happened in the past to warrant its creation?

Forest pests that infest live trees, like bark beetles and wood-boring beetles, are particularly problematic because they are both very damaging, and easily moved in infested packaging materials. ISPM 15 was created to allow for a set of approved treatments (usually heat treatment, but other listed treatments are acceptable) that render the wood in solid wood packaging functionally very unlikely to contain live pests.

Several types of very damaging insects- most notably the Asian long-horned beetle were being repeatedly transported internationally in infested pallets, which then led to a series of very serious insect infestations in the recipient countries.

ISPM-15 was designed to dramatically decrease the risks of using solid wood packaging so that this important part of the global supply chain could continue to be used around the world without further destruction of forests from these pests.

What is an example of an issue on your radar screen right now from an ISPM-15 perspective?

The ISPM 15 standard relies on the effectiveness of the plant protection organization (PPO) at the pallet’s country of origin to ensure that the treatment and stamp is conducted and applied properly. For instance, if a product is produced, boxed, and palletized in England and then shipped to the USA, it is the responsibility of UK’s Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs to ensure that the treatment is correctly applied, not the responsibility of the receiving entity in the USA.

So the forest pests that I am most concerned about are not particular insects or diseases- but rather I am concerned about the chance of new and potentially very damaging forest pests in pallets originating in countries where the treatments required by ISPM-15 aren’t being adequately or consistently enforced by their PPO. While a given pest might be worrisome, the idea that many different types of pests might be coming in repeatedly from regions with poor enforcement is an even bigger issue in my mind.

What are the most worrisome types of pests- and why are they particularly concerning?

The pests that are accidentally transported in or on solid wood packaging can be roughly divided into two types- primary (wood infesting) pests, which are already in the bark or wood when it is initially harvested as a tree, and secondary (surface hitchhiking) pests, which attach later onto the surfaces of the packaging.

Primary pests like the Asian long-horned beetle can be well controlled with good consistent adherence to ISPM-15 by all trade partners- but there are some primary pests, and many hitchhiking pests, that I believe currently do not have sufficient policies and regulations in place to prevent them from entering North America. So what worries me is what might fall through the cracks- highly heat resistant pests, hitchhiker pests that contaminate pallets or crates after ISPM-15 treatments are completed, and others.

What would be your takeaway message to the forest products industry and to the wood packaging sector in particular?

The long term viability of solid wood packaging materials in international shipping will depend on outstanding international cooperation in adhering to ISPM-15. It is incredibly important to work with trade organizations and shipping specialists overseas to ensure they know about ISPM-15, why it is important, and how to comply. Solid wood packaging can be just as safe as any other shipping material if it is treated appropriately.

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