The Rutherford Report—Pest Detection Program Protects Local Crops

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“Ever since I
made tomorrow
my favorite day, I've
been uncomfortable
looking back.”

—Paul Harvey
Pest Detection Program Protects Local Crops

Bishop nosed his way through stacks of cardboard boxes at a local shipping facility before his keen sense of smell led him to his quarry—a box of flowers.  

The spunky yellow Labrador retriever scratched the box with his front paw and peered up at his handler, San Bernardino County Agriculture/Weights and Measures Pest Exclusion Officer Kristina Cummings, who promptly rewarded him with a treat.  

Bishop has been sniffing out agricultural items such as fruits, vegetables and flowers since December 2010 after he was rescued from a shelter and attended the United States Department of Agriculture National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Georgia with Officer Cummings.  

His goal is to find items that might contain exotic pests such as fruit flies, citrus snow scale, gypsy moths, and Asian citrus psyllid, which can devastate the County’s agricultural industry.   

This time, however, the box Bishop sniffed out was labeled with a certification sticker from the USDA, so after giving the box a look for any signs of trouble, Officer Cummings, her partner Officer Kenny Nguyen, and Bishop continued their trek through the sprawling warehouse.  

When Bishop discovers packages that raise alarm, the items are quarantined and sent to the California Department of Food and Agriculture for testing. The State grades the pest as either A, Q or C.  

C = already established in the County  

A = not established and potential for environmental detriment  

Q = may cause environmental detriment, but not enough information to know for sure  

Officer Cummings said inspections at private shipping facilities such as FedEx and UPS often don’t yield as many hits as those done at the U.S. Post Office facility in Redlands, probably because the latter is the go-to source for people sending backyard produce to friends and relatives.  

Still, the County’s pest detection team has had major finds at private shipping facilities. Recently Bishop sniffed out a package of tropical flowers from Ecuador and a shipment of fresh herbs from Florida that were both found to have potentially invasive pests  

Bishop has also found properly labeled packages that ended up being infested with potentially crop-damaging pests.  

Labrador retrievers like Bishop are especially good at this type of work because of their penchant for searching for stuff and because they are food motivated, which means rewards drive them to keep sniffing packages. They also have about 25 times more olfactory receptors than humans, and their long noses allow them to discriminate between a range of scents even in minute quantities.     

Per USDA rules, Bishop stays at a dog kennel when he’s not on the beat. Federal rules also require the County to retire the dog after he turns 9. When that happens, Officer Cummings plans to adopt him.  

“Bishop loves his job, and his enthusiasm is contagious!” Officer Cummings said.  

You can learn more about the San Bernardino County Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures Pest Control Division at
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