USDA gears up for new LBAM eradication effort
Posted: 03/17/2009 04:52:32 PM PDT
MOSS LANDING - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is gearing up to breed millions of sterile male light brown apple moths at a new Moss Landing facility in hopes of disrupting reproduction of the Australian pest.
The latest effort to combat the moth comes as the California Department of Agriculture expands a quarantine of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables to 18 square miles in the Sebastopol area and 64 square miles near Milpitas.
More than 2,400 square miles, including Santa Cruz County, now fall under the quarantine, which prohibits the movement of nursery stock, cut flowers and produce unless they are certified pest-free by an agricultural official.
"It's a nightmare," said Dave Cavanaugh, whose Pajaro Valley nursery is visited every two weeks by agriculture inspectors. "You can imagine someone walking through your place of business or your home and hoping and praying they don't find anything."
Cavanaugh said he hopes the sterile moth strategy will wipe out the pest and take the heat off California's nurseries, which are also being squeezed by the poor economy.
But the program has its naysayers.
The technique has never been used to eradicate a pest with as many hosts as LBAM, says James Carey, a UC Davis entomology professor, in a press release issued Tuesday by Stop the Spray, a Northern California group calling for the end of eradication efforts.
"They are talking about rearing enough (sterile) moths to release over
a 500-square-mile area," Carey says. "That's 500 million moths per week, and it's impossible. They can't eradicate these things, but it lets (the state agriculture department) throw public money down a rat hole."
USDA spokesman Larry Hawkins said it's taken time to do the research needed to breed healthy but sterile male moths that can compete against their more virile peers in the wild. But thousands of sterile moths can be produced per week now in Moss Landing, and the USDA expects to breed millions each week within the next several months.
He pointed to a similar effort against the pink bollworm moth as an example of a success. The state agriculture department has used the technique for more than 30 years as part of a larger pest management program to keep the bollworm from becoming established in California's cotton fields.