Several environmental, organic farming and community groups this week asked newly confirmed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to strip the moth of its high-risk status — a ranking that underpins the California Department of Food and Agriculture's two-year-old eradication program against the insect.
They contend the moth doesn't pose a significant threat to the state's agricultural industry and can be managed without a massive eradication effort.
"This really isn't a pest that is going to do significant economic or environmental damage," said Stephen Scholl-Buckwald of the Pesticide Action Network North America in San Francisco.
Other groups signing the letter to Vilsack were California Organic Farmers, Californians for Pesticide Reform and several community groups that formed after the state started an aerial spraying program against the moth in Monterey County in 2007.
The petition comes on the heels of a similar request to federal agricultural officials made during the final weeks of the Bush administration.
Critics of the apple moth campaign contend that quarantine and eradication measures not only pose health and environmental hazards, but take an economic toll on some growers.
"They are basically spending a lot of federal money to control a pest that is unnecessary,"
The moth was first detected on the U.S. mainland in February 2007, and state officials said it could cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to California crops.
The state dropped the aerial spraying of pheromones against the moth after hundreds of people in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties complained of health problems. State officials maintain the spray ingredients pose a low likelihood of causing health programs.
After dropping aerial spraying, the state's weapons against the moth included pheromone applications on the ground, the release of sterile male moths, nursery inspections and continued trapping to monitor the moth population.
The apple moth is classified as an "actionable pest" by the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA spokesman Larry Hawkins said.
The recent petitions for possible reclassification will be "evaluated and given consideration," he said.
The moth's potential impact on agriculture — not only in California, but in other states — will be considered, along with economic and trade factors, Hawkins said.
"We will look at all of those and try to come up with a determination whether this pest should be delisted," he said.
The final decision rests with the chief administrator of the federal inspection service.
"The evaluation is done on a scientific basis, and the (secretary of agriculture) tasks the agency to do that," Hawkins said.
Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.