SANTA CRUZ -- In a victory for thousands of Northern California residents, state officials announced Thursday they will no longer aerially spray urban areas with chemicals to fight the invasive light brown apple moth.

Light brown apple moth plan


State and federal officials announced Thursday they will no longer use airplanes to spray urban areas to fight the light brown apple moth. Instead:
•Chemical pheromone will be aerially sprayed over agricultural or undeveloped land to distract male moths from mating.
•A paste containing the same pheromone will be applied to trees and telephone poles, also to confuse male moths.
•Twist ties saturated with the pheromone will be tied to trees.
•Sterile moths will be released by 2010 to further thwart mating efforts.
•Organic insecticides, like Spinosad and Bacillus thuringiensis, will be used in heavily infested areas.
•Tiny stingerless wasps, which would destroy moth larvae, are being considered.
Source: CDFA, USDA

Instead, planes will spray pheromone CheckMate LBAM-F over agricultural or undeveloped areas only, according to state Department of Food and Agriculture Director A.G. Kawamura.

The decision follows months of protests and lawsuits from residents of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and around California, after airplanes sprayed parts of the two counties with the chemicals last year.

"We want to move away from the tools of the past," Kawamura said. "Our focus right now is: Let's all work together to eradicate this pest."

The Monterey Bay counties originally were slated to be sprayed again with CheckMate LBAM-F this summer, along with other San Francisco Bay Area counties. The chemical pheromone mimics the smell of female moths and distracts the males from mating. Judges in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, halted those plans last month until environmental reviews and health tests are completed.

Now, though, the state's plan to aerially spray neighborhoods to fight the apple moth has been tossed altogether.

The tool of the future, Kawamura said, is a sterile male moth that his agency hopes will thwart the moth's efforts to reproduce. Sterile moths have long been part of the state's arsenal to fight the invasive pest, but Kawamura said the state will release thousands of them earlier than anticipated. The first sterile moths should take wing next year, and the program will ramp up in 2010.

Until then, said agency spokesman Steve Lyle, state leaders hope to contain the moth where it is and prevent it from spreading to other counties, even though its population could swell. As of June 6, 15,600 moths had been identified in Santa Cruz County, up almost 800 from the month before and more than twice the number found in any other county in the state.

The now favored sterile moth plan comes shortly after leaders with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture met with Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel.

Farr said Thursday he believes plans to continue aerial spraying have triggered an enormous outcry that could derail the entire effort to get rid of the light brown apple moth -- an effort he said is extremely necessary to protect California agriculture.

Aerial spraying, Farr said, "has become a lightning rod for criticism and is placing the entire eradication program in jeopardy."

By taking another tack, Farr said, he hopes to continue the program and eradicate the pest.

Not all of the public criticism disappeared with today's announcement, though. Roy Upton of Soquel, with consumer advocacy group Citizens for Health, said he was "ecstatic" to hear his neighborhood will not be sprayed, but questioned the safety of insecticides that the state plans to use on the ground. Upton said he believes the moth is already established in California and any attempt to get rid of it won't work.

However, Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, a critic of the aerial spraying program, commended the state's decision to halt urban aerial spraying.

"Today's news represents significant progress and evidence that the governor is responding to public concerns," Laird said. "Whether it is twist-ties, stingerless wasps, sterile moths or any other strategy, what's most important is that we protect our farms and nurseries while ensuring public safety and environmental protection."

State and federal officials have said the light brown apple moth could decimate the state's agriculture industry, causing up to $100 million in damage to apple, grape, orange and pear crops alone. The federal government set aside $74.5 million to fight the moth this year, and agriculture officials have said they hope to eradicate the pest in five to seven years.

The state will continue to combat the apple moth with twist ties infused with CheckMate LBAM-F, Kawamura said. Agriculture officials also plan to mix the same pheromone into a sticky paste and apply it to telephone poles and trees in infested areas, beginning later this year.

Late Wednesday, the state filed appeals to the Santa Cruz and Monterey county court rulings requiring officials to finish an environmental review before any spraying could take place. Right now, no spraying can begin in either county until the review wraps up next year.

Critics contend not enough is known about the health effects of the spray. Several hundred people in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties complained of respiratory problems and other ailments after last year's aerial spraying, though state toxicologists have said that those complaints cannot be conclusively linked to the spraying because in a large population, a certain number of people experience similar health problems every day.

Contact G. Bookwalter at 706-3286 or gbookwalter@santacruzsentinel.com.