The Challenge

Forests Under Siege

Worcester Before and After Asian Longhorned Beetle
Before/After tree removal for Asian longhorned beetle in Worcester MA Credit: Dermot O’Donnell

Forest pests pose one of the most serious and urgent threats for many forests and urban and suburban trees in the US.

In a time of climate change, we rely increasingly on forests for their carbon storage, storm water management, cooling, and biodiversity protection benefits. Meanwhile, invasive pests are gnawing away at our important natural infrastructure at an alarming rate. Despite annual costs in the billions, the impact of invasive insects and pathogens is under-appreciated.

Pests are unintentionally introduced via global trade. But most efforts to combat pests focus on managing the insects and pathogens once they arrive, rather than preventing their arrival through clean trade strategies.


Our Idea

preventing pest invasions

Credit: Gary Lovett, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies


Forest pests research in the news
Forest pests research in the news. Credit: Science Magazine

The Science Policy Exchange, with partners at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, is increasing public and policy attention to trade measures that offer solutions to the forest pest problem. In 2014, we brought together top scientists and policy experts from across the US and assembled the most comprehensive paper available on the forest pest problem, its ecological and economic impacts, and potential policy solutions.

Our synthesis shows that preventing the arrival of new pests holds the greatest promise for safeguarding our nation’s forests and community trees.

Key Findings

  • Invasive forest pests and pathogens cause more than $5 billion in damages every year, with most of these costs borne by homeowners and local governments.
  • The pace of trade is rising faster than the rate of new pest invasions, suggesting that policies to keep pests at bay are beneficial.
  • 63% of the nation’s forested land is expected to experience tree declines from established pests by 2027


Our Impact

Advancing Clean Trade Strategies

Students learning about forest pests
Harvard Forest researcher David Orwig identifying forest pest damage

We are working with journalists to increase awareness of trade as the source of damaging forest pests, and working with policymakers and business leaders to change trade policies and protocols.

We refined our list of clean trade strategies through meetings with staff at federal agencies in Washington D.C. with the mission of facilitating trade while preventing the arrival of forest pests. We are continuing to advance specific actions these groups can take to prevent pest invasions.