Just as cooler weather began moving in to Northern Ohio, and I stopped thinking about insect problems in the forest, a call from a reader poured in, asking what's new surrounding bug issues and solid wood transport packaging material. I missed his name; however, I do recall he said his company was about to start shipping internal motor parts from China to the U.S., and it was his job to determine the correct packaging material.

My first inclination was to tell him now is not the time to start the transport packaging process. Instead, I said I'd look around and make a few calls. He thanked me and said there was no rush. They wouldn't start shipping until October. Whatever happened to long-range planning?

Combating phytosanitary risks these days takes as much Web work as it does physical preparation of the solid wood pallets and containers. As of January 2004, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Department of Agriculture, began encouraging importers to use International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) 15-compliant wood packaging in anticipation of future implementation of the regulation. The final rule is (now) expected to be released by the third quarter of 2004 with a one-year grace period before enforcement penalties are levied. If that sounds familiar, you're right. Implementation of ISPM 15, after many fits and starts, was slated to begin in June 2004. As I've said in columns before, it's a moving target.

Heat treatment of solid wood packaging material still seems to be the preferred route for making solid wood products acceptable to most countries complying with ISPM 15. There are some alternatives to the methyl bromide fumigation problems that have arisen in some countries; however, these are limited. The many nuances of what is heat treatment (it is not kiln-drying, for instance) and other questions can be found at a number of locations via the Internet. I suggest you begin your search at www.aphis.usda.gov, www.apawood.org, www.forestryquarantine.org, www.nwpca.com or www.ippc.int.

In China, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine hasn't decided when it will implement the new regulation for imported solid wood packaging. Down under, New Zealand has implemented the guidelines without hesitation since its own guidelines are more stringent. On the other side of the pond, the European Commission announced that all EU nations will implement ISPM 15 starting March 1, 2005. However, while the ISPM 15 does not require the debarking of wood packaging, the EU has indicated in previous statements that material must be "stripped of its bark." It has now amended that condition to some degree, and says it will be making distinctions regarding which wood must be bark-free and where it must be debarked.

If you think this is a confusing issue, you're right. Keep in mind we're dealing with 134 countries, each with its own agenda. In an attempt to bring some sanity to this sanitary issue, the Forestry Quarantine Research Group is launching an international conference to specifically address the many questions surrounding implementation of ISPM 15. The conference is called Guidelines for Regulating Wood Packaging Material in International Trade. It will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in February 2005. Check its Web site listed a few paragraphs back for details.

Because this phytosanitary issue is so dynamic, the organizers of this important event have taken a unique approach to planning. An international listserve discussion forum has been established, moderated by Roddie Burgess in the UK. Burgess is chair of the organization's subcommittee for ISPM 15. Consensus on proposed answers to questions will be sought through an e-mail forum and will be posted. The results of the discussion may eventually be submitted to the Interim Committee on Phytosanitary Measures. You can subscribe to the listserve at mailserv@mailserv.fao.org. Leave the subject line in your e-mail blank and enter one line in the message portion: subscribe ISPM-15-L.

I checked it out. Already there are many basic questions and answers posted that will help you understand this complicated transport packaging issue.

So, while we're holding back, or preventing infestations of critters like the Asian longhorned beetle or pine nematode using manual procedures, we'll have to rely on the Internet to satisfy our itch for information and understanding.