Northwest Office

Northwest Regions

The Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey: Collaborative Nationwide Monitoring

By Yolanda Inguanzo

Similar to human diseases, plant diseases throughout history have caused epidemics and pandemics. New insect pest infestations can also be devastating. These pests and diseases can be particularly impactful when they spread from their endemic area of origin to a new area where the host plants are not adapted to defend against these novel pests or diseases and where their natural enemies do not exist. Exotic plant pest introductions have had serious consequences and have led to the formation of state and federal agriculture regulatory agencies.

At ports of entry, US Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection officers inspect articles such as cargo that have the potential to spread plant pests to the US, but they can only inspect a small percentage of incoming articles, passengers and conveyances, and many plant pests are very cryptic. Signs and symptoms can be hard to detect. The next line of defense is a robust surveillance program to find pests that have been introduced into our states and communities but may not yet be established.

In the 1980s, there were many new introductions of significant plant pests, and it became clear that early detection can prevent pests from getting established—the earlier a pest is detected, the better and less costly the outcome. In 1982, the Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey (CAPS) program was created. CAPS is comprised of representatives from USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) and the state departments of agriculture.

In 1999, officials of the USDA PPQ and their state counterparts at the National Plant Board formed the Safeguarding Review Study and drafted the Safeguarding Review Report, which contained a number of recommendations to address the increasing problem of new plant pests. A critical area of need that was identified was strengthening the pest detection infrastructure and developing an effective system for prioritizing and funding pest detection activities.

A systematic survey program

The formation of CAPS established a uniform nationwide survey program, and it has continued to evolve as new pests are discovered and new survey methods are developed. Because survey funding is always limited, the CAPS program identifies the pests through a prioritization process to determine those that are most worthy of that limited funding. Each state also has a state CAPS committee that decides how best to use survey funds and identify the most pressing pest risks for their state. In some states this committee can include university extension and other agencies with a stake in plant health.

One invasive pest are nematodes, which are microscopic organisms that
consume a plant’s roots. Soil samples are collected and analyzed to
determine if the area is infested. Photo courtesy of Yolanda Inguanzo

States are given a proportional share of CAPS funding to conduct surveys for pests and incoming pest risks deemed a priority by the state, as well as to survey for pests that can impact the nation. Because states are connected by geography but also by rail lines, air travel and interstate highways, if a pest becomes established in one state, all other states are at risk.

USDA PPQ encourages states to maximize survey efficiency by surveying for more than one pest at a time that may be found in the same locations for each survey project. In Washington State, the Department of Agriculture (DOA) maximizes efficiency by surveying for several insect pests at each survey location and hangs a set of traps with different lures at each survey site while also visually surveying the host plants/trees for signs of pest damage.

Most pest surveys are accomplished through a cooperative agreement between the USDA and the state or local agency or organization that carries out the survey. CAPS cooperative agreements facilitate collaboration between the state and the local USDA State Plant Health Director’s office and provide accountability to ensure funds are used as intended. Cooperative agreements for CAPS surveys stipulate that the resulting survey data will be reported in a national database.

Survey methods

One important function of the CAPS program is developing standardized survey methods. This results in the most effective use of funds by not funding unproven and ineffective methods. The use of standardized effective methods also allows negative data to be recorded (the absence of a pest), which may be useful in certifying exports of plant products to foreign countries that require absence of particular pests. Through the years, as new pests have become known and new methods have been developed, the pest lists and methods have evolved to meet changing risks.

The CAPS Resource and Collaboration website ( contains information for pest surveys and pest data sheets that are organized for easy reference. The website is open to the public and can be a useful reference for anyone working in pest monitoring or detection, or anyone seeking information on exotic plant pests. Pest datasheets are formatted uniformly with taxonomic information, descriptions of life stages, biology and ecology, pictures showing signs of damage and infestations, known hosts, known distribution, survey methods, and identification methods. There is also a list of references for further researching.

In one of the longest running CAPS surveys in Washington State, DOA receives CAPS funding to survey for more than 30 wood boring insects, such as Asian long horned beetle and other plant pests that could severely impact the state’s forest resources, as well as affect other industries that depend on healthy forests, such as real estate and tourism. To supplement CAPS funding, states often use the Plant Protection Act (PPA) Section 7721. The CAPS program facilitates the pest detection projects funded through PPA Section 7721 by providing infrastructure for the states to run

The colorful traps found attached to trees alongside roadways and in forests are examples of ongoing surveys efforts by state agencies.
In Alaska, this trap is for the Siberian silk moth. Photo courtesy of Yolanda Inguanzo

survey programs and providing the information on survey methods, traps and lures, and a data repository. In Washington State, PPA Section 7721 is used to fund surveys for Asian Gypsy moth and other exotic defoliating moths, as well as a grape pest survey, stone fruit pest survey, defoliating moth survey, exotic snails and slugs survey, and other projects promoting plant health in Washington.

Engaging the public has been crucial to the success of keeping exotic plant pests out of the Pacific Northwest. For more information about the CAPS program or to find out how you can get involved, visit the Hungry Pests website ( 

Yolanda Inguanzo is the Pest Survey Specialist for Washington and Alaska with the USDA-Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine. She can be reached at 360-753-9430 or

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