Monterey County is gearing up for a huge influx of light brown apple moths – in an effort to get rid of them.
State and federal agriculture officials will move their moth-rearing facility to Moss Landing in March. The idea is to release sterile moths throughout the state during mating season, foiling fertile moths into mating with them, and ultimately suppressing the population.
In 2007 and 2008, officials waged a different kind of sexual assault on the invasive moths, confusing them with aerial sprays of synthetic pheromones. But judges in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties called time-out on the moth war until the California Department of Food and Agriculture completes an environmental impact report.
“The lawsuits stopped any kind of activity in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, period,” says Larry Hawkins, U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman. “There’s no treatment that would occur in the counties until after the EIR is done.”
Officials continue to trap moths in both counties. Elsewhere in the state, a variety of treatments – from “twist tie” pheromone applications to “attract and kill” insecticide concoctions – combat the moths, which officials say can cause catastrophic crop damage. The moths haven’t yet proven to be a plague to California fields, but export quarantines deal an economic blow.
Facing public outcry and lawsuits, the agencies have frozen their plans for more aerial spraying.
Meanwhile, USDA and CDFA staff are moving their LBAM headquarters from the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds in Watsonville, its home for the past 18 months, to a building near the Moss Landing power plant. Two rearing modules will be used for the sterile insect program, which involves exposing male and female adult moths to gamma-source ionized radiation.
“They get a very low dosage, not unlike the type of radiation that’s used to eliminate pathogens in food,” Hawkins says. “It alters the organs of the insects so that they cannot reproduce.”
Hawkins expects the state’s EIR to be released for public comment in the spring. He defers questions on the report’s content to CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle, who did not return calls. “Everything that’s in the EIR,” Hawkins says, “will potentially be on the table.”