Release of sterile moths should prevent the need to spray a pheromone pesticide in Marin and other urban areas to rid the region of the light brown apple moth, state Assemblyman Jared Huffman said Thursday.

"It's a sterile moth and the state thought it was two to three years away as an option, but they have been able to ramp it up," said Huffman, D-San Rafael.

State agriculture officials were scheduled to formally announced the development in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Already, 20,000 of the moths have been produced in Albany as a joint project by the state Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The moths would be released in early 2009 to mix with the general light brown apple moth population and reduce the insect's numbers.

"It appears that spraying over urban areas is now off the table," Huffman said.

The light brown apple moth, which grows no bigger than a quarter of an inch, is the source of huge controversy. The state has declared an emergency and has plans for aerial spraying this summer over Bay Area counties, including Marin, in an attempt to get rid of it.

The moth is opportunistic, devours many plant species and threatens California's agricultural industry.

The planned action - to spray a synthetic pheromone intended to confuse the male moth by mimicking the mating scent - has prompted outrage from residents and lawmakers, who worry about health impacts.

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