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Gov. Schwarzenegger calls for ‘halt’ to aerial spraying

[Ed. note: The New York Times is finally covering 4/25/08) the light brown apple moth and the government's response.]

On the heels of this morning’s ruling by a Santa Cruz county judge to stop aerial spraying for the light brown apple moth in that county until the completion of an environmental impact report, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today announced a suspension—until August 17—of the spraying for the moth state-wide…until, he says, there’s more investigation into the health affects of the as-yet-untested product being used. Oddly enough for us up here in the Bay Area, aerial spraying wasn’t scheduled to start until August, anyway. In the state’s press release the governor ‘says’ this:

I am confident that Continue Reading

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Update: Light brown apple moth spraying halted in Santa Cruz County

Breaking news: A Santa Cruz County judge this morning ruled that the state of California has not provided enough evidence of an emergency and must, thus, complete an environmental impact report on the light brown apple moth before spraying in that county can resume.

And thanks to the reporting of Michele Ellson over at the island, we know that a host of environmental watch dog groups—despite portrayals to the contrary by the State of California—oppose plans to spray the city of Alameda and other Bay Area cities and towns with an untested and possibly unnecessary synthetic moth pheromone delivered in tiny plastic microcapsules.

The more I read about the moth—and, trust me, reading about it in all its complexity gives me a headache—the more it becomes clear that the reason for the rush to erradication (the possiblity of which many experts dispute) has to do with trade embargoes (Mexico has imposed embargoes on agriculture products from areas with the moth) and loss of business for our growers. It begins to seem like it’s more a trade issue—the moth does not result in quarantines in other world regions—than an environmental one. So let’s work to change trade requirements.

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LBAM report out: pheromones over Alameda

When I first heard of the light brown apple moth, I promised myself I’d never use the LBAM acronym—because who calls a little brown moth “LBAM?” It’s goofy. But there it is, up there in the headline, in all its space-saving goofiness.

The state has released its report on whether the spraying of Checkmate (synthetic moth pheromones in plastic ‘microcapsules’ for time release) in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties last fall caused illnesses. Chris Metinko’s story about the findings is here. It is no surprise that the state found there was not enough evidence to conclusively Continue Reading

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News Links: Light brown apple moth

The rancor in the state continues over government plans to spray CheckMate, a synthetic moth hormone delivered in plastic ‘microcapsules’ over Bay Area counties come August.

Genevieve Bookwalter reports on the United States Department of Agriculture’s response to the study issued last month by UC Santa Cruz Arboretum Director Daniel Harder. Harder says the light brown apple moth is Continue Reading

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California Secretary of Agriculture Kawamura visits Alameda to defend moth spray program

At last night’s city council meeting—after a brief presentation on California’s strategy to control the Light Brown Apple Moth—a couple of dozen Alameda citizens stepped up to challenge the plan to spray an as-yet-unformulated concoction on Bay Area cities and towns.

While the politics of the situation are intriguing—the ‘emergency’ which allows government agencies to sidestep normal health and safety requirements, the fact that the manufacturer of the synthetic pheromones is a Schwarzenegger campaign donor, and, too, that the state recently had to cancel a $500,000, no-bid PR contract to promote the spray—the basic facts remain the same: Continue Reading

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Spray Alameda? Spray the light brown apple moth?

As you may have already heard, the state of California plans to spray up and down the coast three to five nights a month for five years to eradicate the light brown apple moth, a newcomer from Australia. Hundreds of people in the Santa Cruz area, where spraying began last fall, reported respiratory problems. Legislation has been introduced to stop the plan and some towns like Albany (here’s a recent Contra Costa Times editorial by Albany Mayor Robert Lieber) are resisting. Our Alameda is in the area slated to be sprayed.

Not knowing much about moths, I called Dr. Jerry Powell the Berkeley entomologist who found the first light brown apple moth in his backyard blacklight trap in July of 2006. While Powell graciously declined to weigh in on the value of spraying–”insect control is not my field,” he said—he did point out that science does not indicate with any certainty that the apple moth (which he describes as “small, drab and maybe about a centimeter long”) will necessarily become a huge problem: “I think the crux of the matter is that the USDA classifies it as a potential pest and there’s a budget to keep it from spreading.”

What I found most interesting about my conversation with Powell—aside from the fact that it’s not every day I get to chat with people who’ve made a career studying insects (there’s a heck of a lot more of you tech people out there)—was that he made it quite clear there’s no way to predict how and where the apple moth might establish itself:

There is precedent for new moths coming in and not spreading elsewhere along the coast. There’s also a couple of examples of ones that have come in and spread. And there’s one that was in Southern California on the coast for 50 years and then suddenly began to spread inland. You certainly can’t predict what’s going to happen based on other species. It’s sort of anyone’s guess what would happen if you did not spray.

To be clear, the plan does not call for spraying pesticide, but rather synthetic moth pheromones designed to confuse the male moths and interrupt their breeding patterns. Powell:

It’s a kind of like a dust. They call it spray, but it’s a dust made of tiny plastic flakes on which the synthetic pheromone is affixed. And the way that kind of treatment works—or they hope it works—is that it causes so much confusion on the part of the males that they can ‘t find females. The hope is that it leaves a lot or most of the females unmated.

Call me crazy conservative, but I’d like to know, one, that these moths really, really are going to be a big problem if left unsprayed and, two, that the little plastic flecks with pheromones (as well as the other ‘inert’ ingredients included in the product) really, really don’t harm people.

For more information—-you must be curious now? The Pesticide Action Network has a pretty extensive description of the issue, including a timeline of moth-control related events and some background on aerial spraying and pheromones.