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Managing Invasive Species in Agriculture

When a destructive plant pest was discovered in Canada in 2017, several government agencies conducted a surveillance program to understand the presence and distribution of the pest. At the time, data collection and analysis required a great deal of manual work. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted a pilot during the following season using ArcGIS, which reduced the work preparation time by half!

Detection and eradication of Japanese beetles to protect trade, crops and greenspaces

The Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) is recognized by the Government of Canada as a regulated, destructive plant pest. It can cause significant damage to gardens, farms, nurseries, and agricultural crops. The larvae feed on the roots of grass and plants, while adults attack flowers, foliage, and fruit of more than 300 plant species.

Japanese beetle was first introduced to eastern North America from Japan in 1916. In 2017, Japanese beetle was detected in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), a province recognized to be non-infested. The establishment of this pest would cause significant harm to BC’s ecosystem, and its horticultural and agricultural sectors.

As a result, a coordinated response was organized in 2018 between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (AFF), the City of Vancouver, and other industry and non-governmental stakeholders. Other municipalities and organizations continue to join the response in an effort to remove this pest from BC.

The CFIA is responsible for protecting Canada’s plant resource base and mitigating risks from pests, diseases and invasive species. Part of that role is to collect valuable surveillance data which provides the members of the Japanese beetle response with a picture of where the beetles are, and helps to inform decisions related to treatment and outreach activities. The CFIA also regulates the movement of articles, such as plant parts and soil, which can carry Japanese beetle to pest-free areas of Canada.

Melissa Cook, Plant Programs Specialist Inspector, CFIA, elaborated:

“The understanding of its presence and distribution is crucial to the ongoing effort to eradicate Japanese beetle from British Columbia. Surveillance data guided the establishment of the regulated area in Vancouver and the restrictions on the movement of plants and soil out of the regulated area. Japanese beetle surveillance data is also used to guide where the Province of British Columbia and impacted municipalities conduct treatment for the pest.”

For more information on the CFIA’s Japanese beetle activities in BC, please consult:



Movement Controls 

In 2018, a regulated area for Japanese beetle was established in Vancouver. The CFIA restricted the movement of soil and other plant material that was infested or likely to be infested with Japanese beetle out of this area to reduce the risk of human-assisted spread of the beetle. Based on the CFIA’s detections of the beetle, the regulated area within Vancouver was expanded in 2019 and again in 2022. A new regulated area in Burnaby was also created in 2022 based on a small population of Japanese beetles detected within that city.

A movement certificate is required to take soil and plant material out of a regulated area. Any person who violates these prohibitions or restrictions of movement may be subject to a fine and/or liable to prosecution.

Map of the Regulated Areas in BC within the Cities of Burnaby and Vancouver; current as of October 2022

Map of the Regulated Areas in BC within the Cities of Burnaby and Vancouver; current as of October 2022

Expanded Surveillance

As a result of finding Japanese beetles in False Creek in 2017, the CFIA needed to enhance its surveillance for Japanese beetle in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, a core area of 5,000 square kilometres and home to approximately 2.8 million people.

The surveillance program continues to expand to provide the CFIA and other members of the response with more information about the presence and distribution of Japanese beetle in the region, and to define treatment areas for the Province of BC and impacted municipalities.

Initial Operations

When Japanese beetle was first detected in 2017, monitoring for this pest centered on inspecting beetle traps that were set in Vancouver and surrounding areas. Inspectors were using a data collection system which required a great deal of data entry into the CFIA’s geographic information system (GIS) database in order to generate appropriate maps. Ultimately, the CFIA was searching for a faster, more efficient way to input and analyze its surveillance data.

Digital Data Collection

Following a review of the 2017 surveillance season, the CFIA produced a list of requirements to move the 2018 and future Japanese beetle surveillance seasons forward:

  1. Move from paper to digital forms on mobile devices
  2. Use smart forms to standardize data entry
  3. Digitize work assignments for field staff
  4. Create a geo-enabled database for project monitoring, location and data analysis, and to allow more agile decision-making

Members of the CFIA’s Operation Branch in BC worked with its National Geomatics Specialist, Bruce Craig, who is situated in the National Capital Region in Ontario, to tap into existing departmental geospatial information system (GIS) technology to transform its surveillance program.

2018 Japanese Beetle Pathfinder Project

Craig leveraged the use of ArcGIS system software to develop and pilot web applications to help the Japanese beetle team during the 2018 surveillance season. The applications provided the CFIA with the ability to remotely oversee project progress and status, and assign work more effectively.

Dubbed “The Pathfinder Project”, the pilot using ArcGIS was initiated in May 2018:

  • It provided an efficient survey app on mobile devices to collect standardized and accurate data from the field
  • It created a functional workflow using a work assignment app to streamline survey work assignments
  • It provided accessible data from the field in real-time for decision support.

Following the successful pilot in 2018, the Japanese Beetle Pathfinder project expanded in the 2019 season with an increase to the number of Japanese beetle surveillance traps placed in the Lower Mainland and the addition of another CFIA plant health survey to the applications. Here, as in the previous year, ArcGIS was used to coordinate the dispatching and routing service for inspectors so they were assigned the correct work tasks based on survey type and trap location, as well as in accordance with the needs of CFIA survey biologists and subject matter experts. The project has grown and been used consistently to survey all Japanese beetle traps in BC to present-day, and has expanded to include surveillance for other pests of concern across Canada.

“By understanding the power of GIS and its use in analyzing pest surveillance data, it made sense to leverage the use of ArcGIS-based tools, like Survey123, Workforce, and Navigator, to better support the inspector’s work,” said Bruce Craig, National Geomatics Specialist, CFIA.

Improved Collaboration and Analysis

The ArcGIS implementation allows the field-collected data to be easily shared between CFIA inspectors, biologists, project specialists, and management, allowing for timely and accurate review and analysis. Survey managers are able to work more effectively with GIS analysts to produce maps and more detailed analysis using location intelligence and take quick action in augmenting daily work to meet the needs of the day.

Notably, it provides the CFIA with a common operating picture of up-to-date information based on the survey data collected and the locations served by the inspectors. The data is put into an enterprise system, so CFIA survey data securely resides on a CFIA GIS server to be used in conjunction for analysis and decision-making with external stakeholders. Today, the Pathfinder Project survey data has been integrated with CFIA’s lab sample tracking system, along with other datasets, where previously the manual process of bulk data entries could take months.

Significant Reduction in Work Preparation

The app reduced the Survey Manager’s daily organization work significantly, often by greater than 50%.

The mobile survey app sends real-time data from the inspectors in the field directly into a geodatabase that is synced to CFIA’s enterprise servers. The number of traps visited by inspectors has grown by 30% due to the efficiencies gained from being digitally mobile and applying location analytics, while the quality of the data improved significantly through the use of readily available, online standardized forms.

Other noteworthy benefits:

  • Field definitions on the form fields became standardized
  • Allows for easy modifications and notations in editor view
  • Immediate evaluation and visualization of positive traps
  • Improved training opportunities early in the season due to accessibility of data
  • Enhancement to data analysis; e.g. calculate distances, metrics on traps, historical comparisons, delineate zones
  • A new system of record for detailed analysis and engagement
  • Enhanced data sharing with Japanese beetle response stakeholders

The Japanese Beetle Pathfinder Project is a noteworthy accomplishment for the CFIA’s regional Japanese beetle response team, its national informatics collaborators and all CFIA members who contributed to the development of the project! The CFIA is sharing the successes and lessons learned from this project and the current Japanese beetle inspection model across its national network.

About the Author

Desmond Khor works with multi-industry stakeholders to connect stories with opportunities. As a Marketing Manager at Esri Canada, Desmond is helping to build a stronger, more connected community around technology and the business capabilities of location intelligence.

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