Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

Top 5 Dog and Cat Breeds for Families with Children

April 27, 2012 5:16 am

Choosing to welcome a pet into a home with children can be an overwhelming commitment, but knowing the characteristics that are common to certain cat and dog breeds can aid in the decision making process and help families find the breed that best fits their lifestyle. While just about any breed can be raised to be a loving and affectionate pet, petMD.com has pulled together the following top 10 kid friendly dogs and cats.

Top 5 Dog Breeds for Kids

1. The Bulldog:
Known for its sturdy build, the Bulldog is an excellent choice for families with children who like to roughhouse. A docile, friendly and loyal breed, the Bulldog will not retaliate to the poking and prodding of little children. Not overly active, this breed can live comfortably in a house with a sprawling backyard or in a small apartment.

2. The Vizsla: A lesser known breed, the Vizsla has a gentle disposition and manner perfect for living with children. Loyal, quiet and affectionate, the Vizsla breed is extremely obedient and can pick up on tricks and commands quickly. Another benefit appreciated by many Vizsla owners is that they lack the common "eau de dog" that many breeds possess.

3. The Golden Retriever: The most popular dog breed in America, the Golden Retriever is smaller than the Labrador Retriever but they share similar personalities. Golden Retrievers are known for being confident, smart, loyal and kind, qualities appreciated by families with children. Needing plenty of exercise, this breed is best suited for active families who can take their dog with them on outings.

4. The Bull Terrier: Known to be friendly and loving, the Bull Terrier was bred to be a companion dog and is an excellent breed to own if your children are learning to handle a dog for the first time. Bull Terriers are built with a high threshold for pain so they can withstand a few tugs of their tails from little hands.

5. The Newfoundland: A large dog, the Newfoundland, or "Newfie," is known to love and protect the children in the family. Gentle, kind, intelligent and patient, this dog is easily trained and enjoys human companionship. An active breed, Newfies need a daily walk or romp in the backyard.

Top 5 Cat Breeds for Kids

1. The Birman:
A social cat, the Birman loves to love his human family. Not a stereotypical "scaredy-cat," this breed will run up and greet new guests in your home rather than hide in a different room. However, the Birman is not an active breed of cat, preferring to lounge around instead of play.

2. The Ragdoll: Named for the limp position it assumes when you pick it up, the Ragdoll breed is a great choice for a child-friendly pet. Although this breed is soft-voiced and gentle, they enjoy playing games and running around with their human families, only to be followed by long periods of relaxation afterwards.

3. Himalayan: Quiet yet active, this breed of cat enjoys a daily game of laser tag and then plenty of quiet and relaxing time afterwards. An indoor breed, Himalayans will bond and love their family for their entire lives.

4. Maine Coon: One of the oldest companion cat breeds, the Maine Coon is naturally familiar with human temperaments and is adaptive to our needs. A patient breed, Coons are very calm around even the most rambunctious of children, and can help them expel their energy by playing active games of fetch and catch.

5. Exotic Shorthair: Known for its easygoing and laid back personality, Exotic Shorthairs are quiet and loving. Greeting you at the door when you come home and curling up with you as you watch TV, all this breed needs is affection.

Having pets in the family can create entirely new adventures and experiences for children, as well as teach them responsibility. Before welcoming a pet into your home, research what breeds best match your family's lifestyle.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Fixed Mortgage Rates Hold Near Record Lows

April 27, 2012 5:16 am

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates down slightly and hovering just above their record lows as markets waited for the Federal Reserve's monetary policy announcement. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.88 percent and has been below 4 percent all but one week in 2012. The 15-year fixed, a popular refinancing choice, averaged 3.12 percent.

Additional details from the PMMS include:
-30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.88 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 26, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.90 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.78 percent.
-15-year FRM this week averaged 3.12 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.13 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.97 percent.
-5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.85 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.51 percent.
-1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.74 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.81 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.15 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

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March Pending Home Sales Rise, Signaling Another Step in the Right Direction

April 27, 2012 5:16 am

Pending home sales increased in March and are well above a year ago, another signal the housing market is recovering, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 4.1 percent to 101.4 in March from an upwardly revised 97.4 in February and is 12.8 percent above March 2011 when it was 89.9. The data reflects contracts but not closings.

The index is now at the highest level since April 2010 when it reached 111.3.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said 2012 is expected to be a year of recovery for housing. "First quarter sales closings were the highest first quarter sales in five years. The latest contract signing activity suggests the second quarter will be equally good," he said.

"The housing market has clearly turned the corner. Rising sales are bringing down inventory and creating much more balanced conditions around the country, which means home prices will be rising in more areas as the year progresses," Yun said.

The PHSI in the Northeast slipped 0.8 percent to 78.2 in March but is 21.1 percent above March 2011. In the Midwest the index declined 0.9 percent to 93.3 but is 16.9 percent higher than a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 5.9 percent to an index of 114.1 in March and are 10.6 percent above March 2011. In the West the index increased 8.7 percent in March to 108.0 and is 9.0 percent above a year ago.

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Air Travel on the Rise in 2012 as Americans Flock to the Skies

April 26, 2012 5:16 am

TripAdvisor®, one of the world’s largest travel sites, recently announced the results of its annual air travel survey of more than 1,000 U.S. respondents. Americans are flocking to the skies this year as 91 percent of respondents said they plan to fly domestically in 2012, compared to 84 percent that did last year. International flights are also on the rise, with 65 percent planning a flight out of the country, up from 55 percent in 2011.

Mobile Use Takes Off
There has been a significant increase in mobile device usage for air travel among survey respondents.

-Nearly half of all fliers now use a smartphone to check flight status, up from 30 percent in last year’s survey.
-30 percent report using a device to check-in to a flight, up from 17 percent.
-Use of tablets and iPads in-flight are up 15 percent, with more than one in four travelers now calling theirs a carry-on essential.

Fliers seem skeptical about the need to shut off their beloved mobile devices.

-58 percent question whether shutting off electronic devices during takeoff and landing is really necessary.
-40 percent can remember a time when they’ve left their devices on during flight (accidentally or intentionally).

Anti-social in the Air
When it comes to flying, the majority of travelers have no interest in socializing.

-76 percent of travelers prefer to keep to themselves while in-flight.
-Only 9 percent expressed interest in trying a “social seating” program that allows fliers to choose a seatmate based on social network profiles.
-40 percent would pay extra to sit in a designated “quiet” section of the plane.

Not even a presidential candidate could get some fliers to come out of their shell: 33 percent would not choose to sit next to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich, if given the opportunity.

Calling for More Comfort
Twenty-two percent of survey participants don’t enjoy a single thing about air travel, and most travelers cite legroom and seat comfort (or lack thereof) as their biggest complaint.

-41 percent believe that more legroom is the biggest improvement airlines can make, with 30 percent citing more comfortable seating. However, 71 percent aren’t willing to pay for extra legroom on domestic flights less than four hours long.
-On flights longer than four hours, however, 35 percent would shell out $25 for more legroom.

Frequent Flier Favorites
Travelers like their frequent flier programs and, when it comes to booking, brand does matter.

-52 percent subscribe to frequent flier programs and find them valuable.
-58 percent say the brand of airline is important when considering which flight to book.
-15 percent say that racking up frequent flier miles is the most enjoyable thing about air travel.
-Of the 20 percent of fliers who order an alcoholic drink on-board, 42 percent favor wine.
-Singapore Airlines tops most people’s wish lists, with 17 percent saying they haven’t yet flown with this global carrier but would like to.

Top 5 Favorite U.S. Airports:
1. Orlando International Airport, Fla.
2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Ga.
3. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas
4. San Francisco International Airport, Calif.
5. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, N.C.

Additional Air Travel Tidbits
-More than half plan to participate in TSA’s pre-check program.
-The three most popular months for air travel this year are May, October and September.
-27 percent would choose one airline over another if the flight offered Wi-Fi.
-45 percent are concerned that rising gas prices will cause air fares to increase, so they plan to book travel plans early.
-43 percent consider airplanes to be the most germ-laden travel location, more so than hotel rooms and public transportation.

“As air travel becomes more stressful, fliers flock to mobile technology,” says Bryan Saltzburg, general manager of TripAdvisor Flights. “In-flight Wi-Fi, powerful new mobile devices and other tech carry-on essentials allow fliers to create a more relaxing and enjoyable flying experience.”

Source: TripAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Survey Reveals Misconceptions Prevent Homeowners from Going Solar

April 26, 2012 5:16 am

Results of a recent nationwide poll assessing Americans’ beliefs about the desirability and costs of installing a home solar system indicate that 97 percent of Americans overestimate the cost of going solar, while nearly 8 out of 10 of those who do not already have solar panels say they would install solar if cost were not a factor. The study was commissioned by Sunrun, a home solar company, and conducted online by Harris Interactive® in February 2012 among 2,211 U.S. adults, of whom 1,475 were identified as homeowners.

Americans Vastly Overestimate the Cost of Installing a Solar System
While only 3 percent accurately understand that installing solar can cost less than $1,000 upfront, 4 out of 10 U.S. adults (40 percent) think it requires $20,000 or more in upfront costs, grossly overestimating the true cost of installing a home solar system.

The Myth That Solar Is Cost Prohibitive Prevents Homeowners from Installing Panels
The vast majority of Americans are concerned about rising home energy costs from utility companies—95 percent of U.S. adults who do pay and/or are aware of their utility costs cited their rising utility rates as a concern—yet homeowners remain paralyzed by misconceptions about what it costs to install solar. The survey indicates nearly 8 out of 10 (78 percent) U.S. homeowners who do not already have solar panels would install solar if cost were not a factor, and 44 percent would go solar within the next year if they knew cost were not a factor.

“The widespread myth that solar is too expensive is a remnant from the time when buying costly panels for tens of thousands of dollars was the only option,” said Sunrun President and co-Founder Lynn Jurich. “Fortunately that era is over. Misinformation is the root of the problem, and this data can help increasing numbers of homeowners get educated and opt into solar.”

Solar Is a Smart Financial Choice
Not only does solar power service cost consumers little or nothing upfront, but according to the National Renewal Energy Laboratory (NREL) it can also allow homeowners to “save money the very first month, rather than breaking even a decade later after an initial investment.”

“When it comes to money matters, ignorance is rarely blissful. When it comes to solar money myths, misinformation actually prevents U.S. homeowners from making smarter financial decisions,” said Manisha Thakor, Harvard MBA and former portfolio manager turned bestselling author and financial literacy advocate. “Solar power service has become something any homeowner should now consider as part of a modern investment portfolio, if it’s available to them. Among other benefits, it offers homeowners the unprecedented ability to plan and predict one of their largest household expenses for years to come: energy. Consumers can direct any savings from solar to other top financial priorities like paying off debt or investing in retirement.”

Solar Service Eclipses Other Forms of Home Solar
Though many Americans don’t realize there is a way to go solar without the high upfront costs, solar power service—also known as third-party-owned solar—has become the preferred way for consumers to go solar in the nation’s leading solar markets. In California for example, according to data from the California Solar Initiative (CSI), about three-quarters of those going solar choose solar power service.

Over the past 12 months, marketshare for solar power service climbed steadily in California and reached about 75 percent of the home solar market in February 2012. Similarly, to date in 2012, solar power service share of the Massachusetts market is over 80 percent.

Source: Sunrun

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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REALTOR Nationwide Open House Weekend to Bring Buyers and Sellers Together

April 26, 2012 5:16 am

Potential homebuyers rely on open houses to help them find the home of their dreams. This weekend buyers can have a greater chance of doing just that during REALTOR® Nationwide Open House Weekend, which is organized by state and local REALTOR® associations across the country. This Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29, REALTORS® from coast to coast will host thousands of open houses while engaging consumers on the benefits of homeownership and bringing buyers and sellers together.

"REALTOR® Nationwide Open House is a fantastic opportunity for those interested in homeownership to connect with a REALTOR® who can offer expert guidance and advice on the home-buying process," said National Association of REALTORS® President Moe Veissi. "During the weekend, REALTORS® will be on hand to answer questions about the local housing market and provide insights into the social and financial benefits of homeownership. Open houses are also a great way for potential buyers to get a feel for what is available in their local market."

According to NAR's “2011 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers,” 45 percent of all buyers used open houses as a source in their home search process. This figure suggests the value of open houses even in the Internet era. In addition, buyers in the Northeast region are significantly more likely to use open houses, followed by those in the Midwest region. Women are more likely to use open houses than men, as are buyers who were not born in the U.S. or whose primary language is not English. Older buyers rely more on open houses than younger buyers, and buyers with higher incomes are also more likely to visit open houses.

NAR's most recent housing affordability index indicates that homeownership is even more attractive now, with affordability conditions reaching their highest level since recordkeeping began in 1970. The index, which is based on the relationship between the median home price, median family income and the average mortgage interest rate, reached 206.1 in January, the first time the index broke the two hundred mark. The higher the index, the greater the household purchasing power. The current index indicates that the typical family has roughly double the income needed to purchase a median-priced home.

"For buyers who can qualify for a mortgage and are willing and able to take on the responsibilities of homeownership, now is a very good time to become a homeowner," said Veissi. "And for those consumers, REALTOR® Nationwide Open House is a great way to kick off the home-buying season and learn more about housing issues and the local real estate market."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Top 10 Cities for Affordable Vacations

April 25, 2012 5:16 am

Livability.com, a national website that highlights more than 500 of America’s best places to live, recently released a list of the top 10 cities for affordable vacations.

A great trip shouldn't be a financial hardship, but finding the right destination to maximize travel dollars can be a real chore. Livability.com editors narrowed down the list of 500 cities to destinations offering both value and a variety of attractions and entertainment options that appeal to families and single vacationers alike. Cities were ranked by the quality and quantity of unique, free activities—both indoors and out—and by the availability of discounts on otherwise pricey attractions.

“Great family vacations don't have to be expensive,” says Nancy Schretter, managing editor of the Family Travel Network. “Get the whole family together to help plan the vacation and decide on your own definition of family fun. Then enlist the kids' help (if they're old enough) in searching the Internet for cities that have attractions that match your family's interests.”

Schretter also suggests traveling during the off season to take advantage of hotel and attraction price breaks. Be sure to download free coupon and discount books online, and check individual attractions’ websites for special rates. If you’re traveling with children, choose restaurants where kids eat free and look for hotels or other places to stay that offer free breakfast, kitchens and more room to spread out.

Whether your ideal vacation is hiking a snow-capped mountain, milling around museums or downing cheesy concessions at a minor league park, this list of top cities for the best affordable vacation destinations gives travelers plenty of choices.

Top 10 Cities for Affordable Vacations:

1. Louisville, Ky.
2. Minneapolis, Minn.
3. San Antonio, Texas
4. Chattanooga, Tenn.
5. Greenville, S.C.
6. Tulsa, Okla.
7. Boulder, Colo.
8. Athens, Ga.
9. Tempe, Ariz.
10. Rogers, Ark.

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Go Green and Save Green This Spring with Simple Energy-Saving Tips

April 25, 2012 5:16 am

Even though Earth Day has come and gone, it’s a good time to remember that energy efficiency can help “green” the planet while keeping more “green” in your wallet, says the Alliance to Save Energy.

In fact, based on April data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Alliance has calculated that the average U.S. household will spend about $2,100 on home energy this year.

“Consumers who experienced high winter heating bills and are already contending with spiraling gasoline prices are eager to spend less on home energy this spring and summer,” said Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “Energy efficiency not only significantly cuts home energy costs, it also increases indoor comfort.”

To help U.S. consumers go green and save green this spring, the Alliance offers the following energy-saving tips:

Seal air leaks and properly insulate.
This should always be the first step toward reducing energy waste as it can save homeowners up to 20 percent on heating and cooling bills. In addition, taking the time to seal air leaks and properly insulate will increase your home’s comfort.

Turn things off. Take the time to turn off all lights, appliances and electronics when you’re not using them.

Take advantage of window coverings. Close blinds located on the sunny side of your home during the summer and open them in the winter. http://ase.org/resources/earth-day-lighting-dos-donts

Get with the program. A programmable thermostat, properly programmed, can save up to 10 percent on heating and cooling costs.

Look for the Energy Star label. The government’s symbol for energy efficiency, the Energy Star label can be found on a wide range of consumer products and can save homeowners up to 30 percent on related electricity bills.

New and improved light bulbs. Reduce energy use from about a third to as much as 80 percent with today’s increasing number of energy-efficient halogen incandescents, compact fluorescents and LEDs.
http://ase.org/efficiencynews/top-10-tips-energy-efficient-laundry

Clean or change furnace filters regularly.
A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm.

Reduce water heater temperature to 130° F.
Lowering your water heater’s temperature will save you both energy and money. Be sure to wrap the water storage tank in a specially-designed “blanket” to retain the heat as well.

Switch to cold water.
Washing your clothes in cold water will help you save money on laundry day.
Use low-flow faucets and shower heads to save money on water bills, too.

Source: Alliance to Save Energy

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Common Weather Conditions Wreak Havoc on Home's Exterior

April 25, 2012 5:16 am

According to Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute, the weather and environment can wreak havoc on your home’s exterior. Even common conditions like strong sunlight, rain and fluctuating temperatures place stress on our abodes—and the exterior paint that protects them.

Here’s how common weather conditions can cause your home’s paint job to suffer:

Sun. While most people are happiest on sunny days, the same bright conditions can wreak havoc on paint. “Ultraviolet rays tend to deteriorate the binder in exterior paint in much the same way that the rays can harm the skin on our bodies,” explains Zimmer. “As the paint’s binder breaks down, pigment is released in the form of a powder that can wash away in the next rainstorm. When paint erodes, the result is faded color and diminished protection for the home.”

Moisture. Rain, snow, frost and even high humidity can also be hazardous for exterior paint. In fact, any form of moisture can cause paint to soften and swell, eventually leading to blistering, cracking, peeling or flaking. On top of that, moist conditions support the growth of mildew, which can mar the appearance of any paint job.

Temperature fluctuation.
Changing temperatures cause wood and many other exterior surfaces to expand and contract, sometimes dramatically. If the paint on top of the surface isn’t flexible enough, this movement can cause the paint to crack and flake off.

Since we can’t control the weather, we need to take steps to protect our homes from nature’s climatic stressors. According to Zimmer, that means addressing small problems before they become major issues, properly preparing exterior surfaces before painting them, and applying the highest quality paint, which, in most circumstances, means using a top quality 100 percent acrylic latex coating.

Top quality 100 percent acrylic latex paints resist weather stressors in several ways, says Zimmer:
-Compared to ordinary paints, high quality coatings are less affected by ultraviolet rays, so they tend to resist the sun’s bleaching effects.
-They adhere well to the painted surface, so there is less chance of blistering, even in very moist conditions.
-They contain more mildewcide than ordinary paint, which helps prevent mildew from forming on the exterior surface.
-They are tough and flexible, which allows them to expand and contract with temperature swings, rather than cracking and flaking.
Yes, there is hope for homes that are victims of stress…in the form of preventative medicine. Make timely repairs, do good surface preparation and always apply two coats of top quality 100 percent acrylic latex house paint, and your home will be better able to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws our way.

Source: Paint Quality Institute

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Tree Protection Tips to Keep in Mind This Arbor Day

April 24, 2012 5:12 am

On April 27, millions of Americans will observe Arbor Day by planting new trees. While planting trees is important to the well-being of our forests, it is just as critical to learn how to protect both new and older trees from damage by invasive insects and diseases. The death of large, mature trees due to these pests can be devastating to neighborhoods, parks and natural areas.

When Julius Sterling Morton declared the first Arbor Day in 1872 in Nebraska, he was ahead of his time in understanding the value of trees. According to the U.S. Forest Service, a 20-year-old tree providing shade on private property can return to the homeowner an average of $102 in annual energy savings, while only costing $15 to plant and maintain. A public tree that same age, such as the ones you find on your street, returns $96 in annual energy savings, storm water runoff reduction, cleaner air, higher property values and other benefits for every $36 spent on planting, mulching, pruning and other care. Over its lifetime, a large tree in the northeast, for example, will provide almost $6,000 in these benefits.

In addition to the monetary value trees provide, a poll conducted by The Nature Conservancy found that 95 percent of the public consider trees to be an important part of the character and quality of life where they live, and that 93 percent are concerned about the insects and diseases that kill trees.

"Unfortunately, tens of thousands of trees are destroyed by invasive tree-killing insects and diseases every year," said Leigh Greenwood, Don't Move Firewood campaign manager, The Nature Conservancy. "On Arbor Day, if everyone makes a commitment to take simple steps, like not moving firewood when they travel or camp, we can work together as a nation to save both newly planted and already existing trees from being lost from our roadsides, backyards and natural areas."

The dangers of exotic forest pests in North America first became evident in the late 1800s with the arrival of white pine blister rust on infested pine seedlings as well as the accidental introduction of the hardwood-loving gypsy moth. Chestnut blight soon followed, and this blight spread rapidly across the continent, killing millions of mature chestnut trees. Over the last hundred years, other introduced species of invasive insects and diseases have killed tens of millions of trees in cities, towns and forests across the country. These tree-killing pests include Dutch elm disease, Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease, hemlock woolly adelgid, sudden oak death, Sirex woodwasp and many others.

"Prevention by everyday citizens is the key to averting widespread devastation of urban and backyard trees as well as wild forests," said Greenwood. "Many of these insects and diseases can only be stopped by destroying the trees that are infested—a necessary but undesirable method that is most clearly tragic when entire neighborhoods lose their precious tree cover."

Tree protection tips:
-Buy your trees and plants from a reputable source, and purchase certified, pest-free nursery stock whenever possible.
-Tree-killing pests can be found in a variety of wood products. Most problematic are firewood, brush, yard waste, tree debris and re-used wood packaging material. Avoid the long-range movement of these materials to help slow the spread of pests. Buy, use and dispose of these wood products locally.
-If you have been camping or hiking in a forested area, clean your equipment, boots, animals and gear before returning home so not to spread unwanted forest pests or invasive plant seeds.
-Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it—that means the wood was cut in a nearby forest, in the same county, or preferably within 10 miles from where you'll have your fire. Take care to respect all state and local regulations on the movement of firewood and other unprocessed wood—some areas are subject to serious fines for violations.
-Be on the lookout for invasive pests, and if you notice an insect or tree disease you don't recognize, take a photo or obtain a specimen of it, and compare it to website photos of the suspected pest. A good resource to help in identification is: http://www.dontmovefirewood.org/gallery-of-pests.
-If you believe you have found a new outbreak of an invasive insect or disease, contact your state department of agriculture: http://www.rma.usda.gov/other/stateag.html.

Source: The Nature Conservancy

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