Popular Science Monthly/Volume 68/May 1906/National Control of Introduced Insect Pests




THE boll weevil in Texas and the gypsy and brown-tail moths in New England are raising some points in the relations between the states and the federal government in insect control which seem to involve new principles, whose discussion may not be untimely.

Here we have insects which the infested states fail to control, either through inability or neglect, and they spread beyond their boundaries. Quarantines against them are comparatively useless, unless the insects are controlled in the badly infested regions. But why should one state tax itself to subdue a pest which is causing it loss and others gain from increased prices, as in the case with the cotton boll weevil, to prevent it from spreading to them? On the other hand, if it is possible for the state to do so, is the national government justified in assuming the task if it had the authority? Congress makes appropriations to aid in the study of insect pests for the information of the inhabitants of uninfested states, but can it legislate so that a federal official may have authority to proceed in preventing the introduction, or exterminating or controlling any pest which threatens to invade other states and to seriously threaten their welfare? These are new entomological questions of a broad nature which circumstances have forced upon us and which must be solved in the near future.

The writer's first impression, which seems to be the prevailing one, was that the federal government has no authority to make any regulations toward exterminating or controlling an insect pest within a state, except under the laws of that state. Further study of the subject, in relation to the federal control of similar matters of public health and welfare, has forced the conclusion that this view is essentially incorrect and that the national government may have full authority conferred upon it by congress under the constitution for handling the whole situation.

A few points concerning the history of legislation against insect pests in this country may be mentioned to show its present status. Legislation against insect pests in the east was undoubtedly brought about by the introduction and dissemination of the San Jose scale on nursery stock in the early nineties. State after state passed laws concerning nursery inspection and the importation of nursery stock and some concerning inspection of orchards, etc. Some were good; others bad. Confusion for the nurseryman resulted. In late years we have been engaged in attempting to secure as much possible uniformity in these laws, in which the organization of the National Association of Horticultural Inspectors has been of the greatest value. From the first it was seen that the matter of the control of nursery stock was properly a matter for control by the national government, being strictly a matter of interstate commerce. As a result, on March 5, 1897, there assembled in Washington, D. C, a National Convention for the Suppression of Insect Pests and Plant Diseases by Legislation. This convention represented the horticultural and agricultural interests of the entire country. It recommended a measure to Congress empowering the Secretary of Agriculture to establish an inspection of all importations of nursery stock, plants, etc., into the United States, and of all which were subject to interstate commerce, and also drafted a suggestive outline for state legislation upon the same subject. This proposed legislation seems to cover the matter of the inspection and control of insects disseminated on nursery stock, plants, etc., in a most satisfactory manner, though some minor points might now need modification. At this convention Dr. L. 0. Howard, entomologist, U. S. Department of Agriculture, presented a paper, in closing which he is reported to have said, that it was "his firm conviction that the establishment of such a service at the eastern ports . . . would many times repay the horticultural interests of the country." In the next 'Yearbook' of the Department of Agriculture for 1898, in a most interesting and valuable article upon the 'Danger of Importing Insect Pests,' Dr. Howard again urged the importance of such legislation. He said:

The remedy for this condition of affairs is obvious. Laws must be passed establishing a system of inspection of dangerous classes of merchandise, just as has already been done in the case of live stock, and just as has already been done in a partial way by the state of California. The passage of some such national measure as that recommended by the convention of horticulturists and agriculturists held in Washington, D. C., March 5, would seem, from a consideration of the facts here presented, to be abundantly justified by the constant danger which threatens our agricultural and horticultural interests.

The writer is not familiar with the inside history of the work of the committee on legislation appointed by this convention. In any event nothing came of it. The impression is general that the matter at first received the opposition of influential nurserymen. Later, however, when it became necessary for the nurserymen to comply with many and diverse laws to their great inconvenience and annoyance, they evinced interest in securing national legislation on the matter. The chairman of their committee on legislation recently expressed his earnest desire that national legislation might be enacted upon the subject, but after practical experience in presenting the matter to congressional committees seemed to feel that there was but little prospect of securing such attention in the near future. There seems to have heen no serious discussion of the matter by any entomologist since Dr. Howard's article in 1898.

In many states the nursery and orchard inspection is now handled by separate state officials, relieving the entomologists of the experiment stations and state entomologists of this onerous police work. But in many states it is still a burden to the entomologist, who would prefer to devote his time and thought to problems of research. That this work has impeded the development of economic entomology in many respects can not be doubted, though, on the other hand, it has undoubtedly had the effect of bringing many entomologists into closer touch with the people whom they are trying to serve. It would seem, therefore, that the entomologists of the country should be most interested in securing national legislation for this phase of insect control at least. That it is perfectly constitutional and practicable can hardly be doubted. The present work could be accomplished with much more efficiency, with greater protection to the horticultural interests and with far less annoyance to the honest nurserymen of the country, and probably to the greater detriment of the nurseryman who fails to clean his premises of dangerous insect pests and plant diseases.

But at this same national convention of 1897 a resolution was passed concerning congressional appropriation to aid Massachusetts in its fight against the gypsy moth as follows:

Resolved, That this is a question of national importance, and that the national government should assume the work of extermination or render substantial financial assistance to the state of Massachusetts for that purpose, that the work may be carried to a successful conclusion and this continent be thus saved from the ravages of another terrible insect pest.

In passing this resolution, the convention recognized the responsibility of the federal government in protecting the uninfested states from the spread of the gypsy moth, which by precedent would involve the same aid for all other insect pests of sufficient importance. It is in this phase of the question that New Hampshire is now particularly interested. By means of an appropriation from the state legislature which would not be burdensome, and which will no doubt be made at the next session, we can probably prevent the spread and increase of the gypsy moth in New Hampshire by annual inspections along all highways liable to be infested. But without the expenditure of a very much larger sum, and in a more efficient manner than is now possible under the present law, by the state of Massachusetts, it may be but a few years before the gypsy moth will be so abundant in Massachusetts up to the New Hampshire line that it will be practically impossible to prevent its spread or to control it in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is thus ultimately helpless to prevent the invasion of the gypsy moth and the possible destruction of her grand old elms shading the highways, or to protect her important lumber interests and forest-clad mountains, the features which make the state one of the most beautiful and attractive in the union, unless Massachusetts may be aided by liberal appropriations from the federal government, so that the further spread of the pest may be checked and be increasingly controlled where it is worst. To this end bills have been introduced during the present session by Hon. E. W. Roberts, of Massachusetts (H. R. 285 and 286), appropriating $250,000 for the extermination or control of the gypsy moth and $15,000 for the importation of parasites and predaceous enemies, to be administered by the secretary of agriculture. This measure has the support of New Hampshire and all the best interests of New England.

But though this appropriation is necessary for immediate use, it seems that the whole matter of the relation of the national government to the control of insect pests is in an unsatisfactory condition. Who can guarantee that this appropriation will be repeated? How can it be administered under present laws, except through the officials of the state of Massachusetts? In New Hampshire there is no legislation upon the matter at present, and any action would have to be done entirely with the permission of property owners, and by the approval of the governor, as at present no damage to property would be involved. If the national government has the power to make an appropriation for this purpose why has it not the right and duty to provide the proper machinery for its administration whenever the necessity may arise from other pests in various parts of the country, without special subsequent action of congress authorizing the same, and if congress has such prerogatives, why should they not be exercised for the benefit of the agricultural and horticultural interests, as well as those of the city trees of the entire country? To show the propriety, feasibility, and desirability of such legislation is the writer's purpose.

That national control of introduced insect pests would be of the greatest value can hardly be doubted after a brief glance at the history of the worst introduced insects of the last twenty-five years. Had there been a federal official with authority to proceed and stamp out and control the San Jose scale when it first appeared in the east, could not its spread have been to a very large extent prevented, if not indeed entirely stopped? Or similarly, if a federal official had commenced the extermination or control of the gypsy moth in the eighties before it was taken up by Massachusetts, and had supervised the work of that state, being ready to step in and prevent its subsequent spread sufficient to endanger the neighboring states, would not the alarming conditions now existing have been to a large extent prevented? The same is true of the brown-tail moth. The Gypsy Moth Committee of Massachusetts fully appreciated the danger of this pest, which in many respects is worse than the gypsy moth, but they had no funds with which to combat it. Later a small appropriation was made, but it was entirely in adequate and too late to control the pest. Had the money been available when the brown-tail moth was first discovered, and had it been efficiently administered, we have no doubt that it might have been effectively controlled. How much loss it will now cause in years to come is entirely problematical, unless the European parasites become of immediate value, for there is nothing to prevent its spread over the entire east within a few years. Last year it spread over one hundred miles in New Hampshire. Again, when the boll weevil was discovered in south Texas, a representative of the United States Department of Agriculture appeared before the legislature of Texas and advised legislation which would prevent the growing of cotton in the infested counties, which grew but a small amount, for a few years, so that the pest might be exterminated, but he was literally laughed down. Had the federal government been able to step in at that time and enforce whatever measures seemed best to prevent the subsequent spread of this insect throughout the cotton belt, the subsequent loss of at least $22,000,000 to Texas alone in 1904 and the present certainly unpropitious outlook for the cotton interests of Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley might have been averted. Might not the introduction or subsequent spread of the miserable little New Orleans ant (Iridomyrmex humidis Mayr.), which is now becoming such a nuisance in New Orleans and in southern Louisiana, and whose spread through the south it seems impossible now to prevent or restrict, have been prevented and controlled, had we had such national legislation and organization?

Other instances might be cited, but these are well known to all. Who can tell what pest may not invade some one of our boundary states at any time and increase to such numbers that it will be impossible to prevent its spread before state legislation copes with it? It is to be regretted, but we may as well frankly admit that the present tendency toward federal control of all of these police duties is almost entirely due to the inefficiency of most of our state legislatures in dealing with such matters. Until very recently the states have been very reluctant to delegate any power to make and enforce regulations to any board or official. In doing this the Gulf states in general have the most desirable type of entomological legislation, permitting effectual work against any insect pests which may arise. In most of the states which have legislation upon insect pests, the official administering it is hampered by petty restrictions, and has no funds at his disposal for coping with any new pest which may require immediate action. The average state legislature is very wary of entrusting such powers to any scientist, assuming in many cases that it knows much more about the subject. The debates of the Texas legislature upon the boll weevil and the information given the writer by some of its members would prove amusing reading to the entomological fraternity. Congress, on the other hand, has consistently recognized that it must depend upon experts in such work and must give them sufficient latitude, so that they can take immediate action when necessity arises. To this has been largely due the efficiency of the federal law in very many matters in which the state laws have been conspicuously inefficient.

How many of our seaboard or frontier states have at the present time any system of inspection which will enable them to prevent the importation of injurious insect pests, or how many, even, could proceed to eradicate such pest when actually within the borders of their state when over a few hundred dollars were necessary for its eradication? California is probably the only state having any adequate machinery for such work.

But it is objected that the work of exterminating an insect within a state would be unconstitutional, an interference with the rights of the state, etc. So it would seem and so at first it appeared to the writer, but the present laws of congress concerning the control of cattle and human diseases and the regulation of the importation of noxious animals effectually dispel this objection.

At the present time the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service has charge of most of the maritime quarantine stations and may take charge of any others it sees fit when they are inefficient under state or municipal management. It furthermore may enforce interstate quarantines, or may quarantine any portion of a state and take such measures as it sees fit to eradicate disease in any locality when the local or state health officials, either through lack of legislation or inefficiency, fail to control disease so that it threatens neighboring states. This has actually taken place in several instances. For a full discussion of federal quarantine measures see an article by James Wilford Garner, of the University of Illinois, in the Yale Review for August, 1905, pp. 181-205. At the present time the southern states are petitioning congress for the national government to take entire control of maritime and interstate quarantines, owing to the proved efficiency of the government service in handling the yellow fever outbreak during the past season. Surely there can be no better proof of the desirability of federal control of quarantines than the present attitude of the southern states, for no section of the country has had their experience with quarantines and no section has been more opposed to federal quarantines in the past.[1]

By the Lacey act[2] congress has conferred upon the secretary of agriculture the power to make and enforce regulations to prevent the importation of noxious animals, and this act has now been enforced for five years. In essence the law proposed by the convention of 1897 would cover the same ground for the prevention of the importation of insect pests.

But more stringent, sweeping and effectual than either of these laws are those establishing and defining the duties and powers of the Bureau of Animal Industry of the Department of Agriculture.[3]

These laws and regulations empower the Bureau of Animal Industry to inspect all import and export domestic animals and all subject to interstate commerce for dangerous diseases. They empower it to proceed to stamp out such diseases as are deemed dangerous and to purchase diseased animals at a fair appraisal when necessary to stamp out a disease. In this work the bureau may and has repeatedly quarantined different states and sections of states. At the present time, the regulations of the bureau prohibit the movement of cattle from counties south of the Texas Fever Line to other counties within the same state, whether the cattle are for interstate commerce or not. These laws and regulations have been tested in the courts and so far have been held constitutional.

Furthermore, congress appropriates for the Bureau of Animal Industry a sum which is specifically for the control of outbreaks of disease. By this means the bureau was able to proceed at once against the foot and mouth disease in New England in 1902. A deficiency appropriation was at once authorized by the next congress (for $500,000, approved December 22, 1902), which enabled the work to proceed without delay. A similar amount was included in the regular appropriation for the bureau for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1904, but the work had been so thoroughly done under the previous appropriation for such work prior to that time that but little of the last appropriation of $500,000 was used. It was a portion of this unused balance, $250,000, which was subsequently appropriated for the investigation of the boll weevil and cotton culture.

Not only do the regulations prohibit the movement of diseased cattle or any cattle from a quarantined state or section, either by shipment or by driving, but they prohibit allowing cattle to drift from one section to another. Furthermore, any hay, straw or other material which may harbor disease from a quarantined area may be entirely regulated by the bureau.

If, therefore, congress, through these agencies, is preventing the introduction of human and animal diseases and noxious animals, and their interstate movement, and eradicates or controls them in sections where their presence threatens the commerce and welfare of other states, why may not the spread of imported insect pests dangerous to plants be similarly regulated? The writer has studied the principles involved with some care and fails to see that those concerning insect pests of domestic animals and plants are not identical.

An interesting phase of the whole discussion arises from the recent convention of the southern states, which passed resolutions, not only praying congress that the national government take charge of all quarantines, but that it proceed to the extermination of the yellow-fever mosquito. Whether extermination of this pest is possible or not I am not informed. From experience with other insects it would seem doubtful. There can be no question, however, that to control yellow fever the breeding of Stegomyia fasciata must be prevented. In the control of yellow fever, the federal government would therefore have a perfect right to proceed against this insect as a menace to human health. We have then the anomalous condition that the national government can control the introduction and spread of insects which affect the health of man and the domestic animals, but that it has no laws against those affecting crops or plant life. Is not the loss to plant life from insect pests far greater than to animal life? How do the values of animal and plant products compare? According to the report of the secretary of agriculture for 1905, the domestic animals of the United States are worth $2,995,370,277 in 1904. There are no figures as to the exact value of animal products, but estimating a similar increase from 1900, they would be worth approximately $2,000,000,000. The total value of farm products are estimated by the secretary for 1905 at $6,415,000,000. Plant products would therefore be worth approximately $4,415,000,000, the ten staples alone being worth $3,515,000,000, while the value of all domestic animals and their products would be $4,885,572,394. In brief, the plant products are more than twice the value of the animal products and nearly equal in value both the live animals and the products they produced. These estimates include the value of the products of so-called 'farm forests' but do not include the value of lumber or the virgin forests not on farms, conservatively estimated to be worth from three to four billion dollars, nor is the inestimable value of city shade trees and parks considered.

The losses occasioned by insects, exclusive of those to animals and stored products, have recently been estimated by Mr. C. L. Marlatt at $520,000,000, which is entirely conservative.

We would venture the assertion, therefore, that the annual losses occasioned by imported insect pests far exceed all losses of animals from disease and of those human diseases which are subjects of national quarantine. Of course, we can place no money value upon human life, but were that possible, we have no doubt that the loss of plant products from a half dozen insect pests imported during the last quarter century would far exceed all losses from animal and human diseases which within that time have been the subjects of national quarantine.

The gypsy moth at present threatens the welfare of New Hampshire, Rhode Island and indeed of all New England, and, if unchecked, ultimately the whole country. Massachusetts has done, is doing and we believe will do, all in her power to check the pest within her borders. But why should her citizens be taxed sufficiently to prevent its spread to neighboring states? And what recourse have the other states, if Massachusetts does not prevent such spread? It would seem that Massachusetts is maintaining a public nuisance, as far as the neighboring states are concerned, but it is doubtful whether a suit could be entered against her on that ground, even theoretically, while actually it is of course entirely improbable. New Hampshire and other states can not make appropriations to aid Massachusetts. Why, then, is it not the duty of the federal government to protect the interests of the neighboring states by checking the spread of the gypsy moth and aiding in its control? The same reasoning will apply to all other introduced insect pests of serious importance. We should all admit that the federal government may prevent their importation, but some of us would claim that as soon as a pest had come upon the territory of any state, that the national government was then powerless to prevent its spread to other states. This same argument has been fully thrashed over in congress concerning human disease, and the present laws, as above outlined and administered, seem to the writer to have fully demonstrated that the federal government has such a right and may make and execute such regulations as seem necessary.

With such national laws and regulations, we believe that the introduction and spread of insect pests, either by transportation or by natural agencies, could be largely prevented. At present under the state laws they are not and can not be prevented.

Serious consideration as to whether it is not entirely feasible for congress so to legislate as to empower the Bureau of Entomology, or such agency as it may deem best, to make and enforce such regulations as will prevent the introduction and dissemination of insect pests, and to appropriate sums sufficient to allow such work to be done at once without awaiting special appropriations, is therefore urged. Only in this way can we have an efficient means of preventing the future importation and spread of insect pests which, if unchecked, may cost the nation millions upon millions of dollars, as those have done with which we are now familiar.

  1. See the Congressional Record of March, 1893, for the lengthy debates in the house and senate upon the present national quarantine law, which was admittedly a compromise measure.
  2. See Circular 29, Biological Survey, U. S. Dept. Agr.
  3. See Regulations of the Secretary of Agriculture governing the inspection, disinfection, certification, treatment, handling, and method and manner of delivery and shipment of live stock, which is the subject of interstate commerce, 1905. Issued under authority conferred on the Secretary of Agriculture by the acts of Congress approved May 29, 1884, February 2, 1903, and March 3, 1905—which acts are printed in it. Also, see Administrative Work of the Federal Government in Relation to the Animal Industry, by G. F. Thompson, 16th Annual Report, Bureau of Animal Industry, 1899, pp. 102-125, and Federal Inspections of Foreign and Interstate Shipments of Live Stock, by D. E. Salmon, D.V.M., 18th Ann. Rept., Bur. Anim. Ind., 1901, pp. 237-249.