[BULBS-L] Importing Bulbs and Seeds

Lee Poulsen wpoulsen@pacbell.net
Mon, 26 Jan 2009 15:40:10 PST
Count me as one who would like to do the right thing all of the time. 
But it was interesting to read the discussion that accompanied the 
several entries in the Federal Register when the small seed lots permit 
was being brought into existence, and then see what resulted.

One of the concerns or issues that kept being discussed was that the 
best enforcement method would be making it in the best interests of the 
importers to WANT to follow the rules. And one conclusion that was 
mentioned several times was that the best way to do this was to make it 
worth any rare plant growers while to exert a little effort to help 
APHIS/PPQ keep out pests to the fullest extent possible. It has been 
discussed here and in other forums over the years that no rare plant 
grower could conceivably want to import diseases or pests. They want 
their own plants to be as healthy as that of any commercial farmer or 
plant grower. No one wants their rare plants (or common ones for that 
matter) to get sick, die, or be eaten up. The discussers also 
acknowledged that the more expensive or more unnecessarily difficult 
they made the import process, the greater chance they created of causing 
importers to smuggle in something that was most likely safe, but not 
worth the money or red tape involved to do it the right way.

We're not talking about plants that are already proven dangerous, but in 
many cases ones that have been imported before and pose no problem 
whatsoever. And even in the case of potentially dangerous plants, I 
think efforts have been made to put a process in place so that 
legitimate importing can be done.

However, I have found the government to be as guilty of causing 
unnecessary problems as the importers might be.

For example, someone mentioned citrus (and the associated citrus 
greening problem). I have liked growing citrus for many years. And I 
discovered that there is a process in place to get new species or 
varieties imported. There is a certain citrus variety I discovered 
during a trip to Japan. It was unlike anything I have ever seen 
available in the U.S. I searched everywhere for legitimate sources in 
the U.S. (and I'm pretty good at that) to no avail. Then I found out 
about the process. I submitted my request, sent various emails and 
regular emails out several times over several years, and to this date I 
have never gotten even an acknowledgment that any of my emails or mail 
had even been received, let alone a response or answer. Since then I've 
checked several times and gone on extensive Google hunts and discovered 
that others have wanted this variety imported and sent through the 
de-virusing process that California is charged with providing, also to 
no avail, and that someone somewhere finally decided to and managed to 
smuggle it in anyway. I am in no way defending that action. However, I 
feel justified in saying that the government agents or agencies involved 
have no one to blame but themselves. If they had just bothered to even 
respond once to any of these individuals, maybe to explain that it is 
impossible to import and give the reasons, then quite a few, possible 
everyone that wanted it, would not have thought about trying to smuggle 
it in. Since I myself never got a response, I have only been able to 
invent an explanation for the nonresponsiveness of the agencies 
involved. Because I have seen that they have been importing other 
varieties and they have all been, as far as I can tell, varieties that 
large commercial growers would be the most interested in, I have 
surmised that for some reason, the agency doesn't care about private 
individuals even though their charge is to serve everyone. The 
information I read was that anyone could request varieties that the 
agency should import. Since there is no charge, it can't be that the 
large commercial growers were able to pay the fees that individual 
requestors couldn't--since there were no fees involved. So in my own 
mind, I blame it on a very strong bias towards commercial growers by the 
gov't agencies to the point of ignoring individual or dooryard fruit 
growers. (And I've personally witnessed this attitude in a handful of 
other examples as well with other types of fruits, so my belief isn't 
completely unsupported).

I think the process leading to, and the resulting rules for small seed 
lots import permits turned out pretty well. I try to use it every time I 
bring in seeds; however I can't control what the exporter does. There 
are a number of very legitimate exporters in other countries who have 
been exporting seeds to the U.S. and elsewhere for decades up until 
APHIS decided to enforce an available but unused restriction on 
unpermitted seed imports, who don't like the change, even as minimal as 
it has become. What I don't understand is that if the exporter fails to 
follow the rules, why must APHIS/PPQ resort to *destroying* the 
shipment? It is completely unneeded. And kind of ridiculous when it 
involves very rare species that really need to be grown by more people 
before they possibly go extinct. (For example, Worsleya procera.) Sure, 
some people live far away from inspection stations. But some of us 
don't. If they called me up, I would drive over and either pay to send 
it back to the importer or pay some nominal (not an outrageous fee like 
Australia charges) to have the inspectors look it over and check for the 
things the exporter was supposed to have checked for--especially for 
something rare and/or very hard to obtain. There really is no need 
whatsoever to destroy a non-dangerous import simply because some aspect 
of the import rules weren't followed correctly, but could be resolved 
safely at the inspection station at this end instead. Of course, then 
there are the plant items that are sent to (in my area) the Huntington 
or the San Diego or Los Angeles Zoos. In some cases, those places have 
never grown the item, and don't know how to. While there are some people 
on this list who are  expert at growing them and getting them to thrive, 
even being some of the most knowledgable about it. But the gov't 
agencies don't seem to have that as one of the options they are willing 
to try. Why?

What you're not ever ever going to do is get Americans, in particular, 
to stop wanting some non-dangerous plant species or variety that they 
really want to grow. I think every government agency should attempt to 
try to satisfy that as much as is reasonably possible, especially since 
all gov't agency employees are actually employees of the citizens who 
pay the taxes that pay their salaries. I have a hard time understanding 
why some agencies seem to not acknowledge that fact. My work is 
ultimately paid for by federal taxes, and we *always* keep that in mind. 
In fact, the entity I work for makes it a budget line item of every 
project we do to spend, I think it's 15 or 20%, on public outreach for 
every project we do, even though public outreach doesn't help us 
complete or accomplish any of the projects we do. We know where our 
money comes from and want the taxpayers to know and hopefully approve of 
what we're doing with their money always.

I think you will find that virtually everyone in this group would be 
more than happy to try to come up with solutions that everyone including 
the agencies like APHIS/PPQ could be optimally happy with. (No one is 
ever going to get 100% of what they want of course. I acknowledge that.) 
As far as I have experienced all the plant people I've known want to do 
the right thing. They don't like when that is made prohibitively 
difficult or expensive for no good reason.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USDA Zone 10a

WDA wrote:
> It only takes one person to create a movement and the strength of the movement can create change. As plant collectors in a public forum we should collectively be worried about those individuals who do not advocate to the legal method of plant importation. If we police ourselves then there is less tendency for the government to do it for us. I for one do not want to have my narcissus bulbs die away because of a plant pest native to the origins of the plant material. Nor would I want my neighbor to introduce plant pests across the fence because it's cheaper and easier to bypass the system. I certainly would not buy from a nursery that advocates by passing the system. But that's just me. One person.
> Bill

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