The Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated the U.S. suffers billions of dollars in damages each year due to invasive species. The federal agency noted that the Department of the Interior alone spent approximately $100 million in 2011 on invasive species prevention, detection, control and research.

This summer, many Americans are receiving packages in the mail that contain unknown seeds, shipped from some place in China. It’s becoming a nationwide issue, and experts across the nation are being quoted in national news stories, urging Americans to report the packages and, especially, to not plant the seeds therein.

Count the North Dakota Department of Agriculture among those urging caution. The agency this week distributed a statement about the mystery seeds, noting reports within the state that residents are receiving them.

“We’re not sure why these seeds are being sent or what the motives are behind this,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “Unsolicited seeds may be invasive and introduce diseases harmful to plants or livestock.”

Wednesday, the agency told the Herald that at least 40 reports have been made in North Dakota.

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It’s a developing story. CBS News reported that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is working closely with other agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, to determine the origin of the seeds. The seeds have been delivered to addresses in at least 45 states.

The USDA is collecting the seed packets to determine the contents, and especially to gauge if the seeds are a concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.

And, as the week progressed, word began circulating that it could simply be a scam through which a Chinese company distributes unsolicited materials – in this case, the seeds – as part of some scheme to increase sales via online customer reviews.

No matter the intent, do not plant these seeds. Introducing foreign seeds into North Dakota or Minnesota farm and lakes country could be disastrous, both environmentally and economically.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture stresses that anyone who receives these seeds in the mail should:

  • Retain the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label.

  • Do not plant the seeds.

  • Contact the Department of Agriculture by calling 701-328-2391 or via email at doa-phytos@nd.gov. Include your name, phone number, the number of packages received and the dates they arrived.

  • And then wait for further instructions.

“Individuals who receive unsolicited seeds should be concerned,” Jason Goltz, regulatory manager of the North Dakota State Seed Department, said in the N.D. Department of Agriculture release. “The introduction of a noxious weed or new disease can have devastating effects on agriculture and our food supply.”