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January, 2010 Volume 35, Issue 1


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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS

(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) -
P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924
mailto:editor@coastalpost.com



They're Hungary And They're Coming
By Karen Nakamura

   
Most of us saw the scary ad by HungryPests.org produced by the US Department of Agriculture USDA) showing the little girl skipping through an orchard as fruit decays in her wake. That is until she transforms into a swarm of Killer Insects. "They're Hungry and They're Coming!" It's as creepy as any Halloween "slasher flick". Then there's the problem of terrifying children whose parents have spent hours showing how beautiful and beneficial the little creatures are.
    Most of all, the ad highlights the growing tension between the two preeminent forces in the race for a better tomorrow. One seeks to protect their personal possessions at any cost from the terrifying outside world while the other seeks to save all sentient beings, insects included. Farmers, caught in the middle, legitimately fear the destructive power of certain species. Environmentalists agree. It's the approach to the problem that makes the difference.
    The State's Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) released a report in June that traps in Santa Cruz County had captured 13,498 moths in the first five months of 2009 in comparison to the 15,439 found in all of 2008. Santa Cruz County came in second only to San Francisco County.
    The stated intention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the ad, they insist, was to convince visitors not to violate California quarantine laws forbidding transportation of unexamined produce into the state. They want it understood destructive insects travel on the healthiest looking fruit and endanger California's $39 billion produce industry.
    Absolutely true... but the overall tone of the ad smacks of the 1800s campaign against "The Yellow Hordes." Unfortunately, in the same vein, the USDA points to sites in Los Angeles County where Mediterranean, Mexican and Asian fruit flies and Australia guava moth have been found and which by subtle implication comes with immigration from "third world" countries.
    Traditional agribusiness and chemical interests believe, ultimately, that insects (like illegal immigrants) have little redeeming value except what the industry controls and, for the most part, should be eradicated. However, chemical air sprayings, a favorite method of application for agribusiness, have been linked to health problems, cancer clusters and wildlife kill offs especially among butterflies, honeybees, fish and shellfish.
    The latest methods of control include ground spraying, pheromone ties and the release of sterile males. The state's eradication program would include Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Barbara and all nine Bay Area counties and include the application of the carcinogen Permethrin to trees and telephone poles.
    At a meeting held August 31 by the CDFA on environmental impact concerns in Watsonville, speakers including those from city and county agencies insisted the chemical applications hadn't proven their value. One farmer said it was impossible to do effective spraying when areas such as nearby backyards and city parks weren't included.
    Dan Harder, botanist and director of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum said the plan to chemically eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) was not necessary or possible and that none of the studies and reports he's seen proved the effectiveness of spraying even on large commercial fields. "It's experimental and includes human subjects."
    Nan Wishner of Stop the Spray East Bay and Chair of the City of Albany's Integrated Pest Management Task Force pointed to gaps in the CDFA argument for the apple moth program declaring it has shown no justification to continue. "We call on CDFA to end this unsafe, unnecessary, ineffective and costly program now."
    Marin's own Debbie Friedman, Chair of Mothers of Marin Against the Spray (MOMAS) followed with "The CDFA's determination to spend over ninety million tax dollars annually on a program without sound scientific merit is unconscionable, particularly now, when schools and vital services are facing drastic cuts."
    Environmentalists prefer enhancing nature's checks and balances to control destructive insects. Many local governments around the nation have or are adopting Integrated Pest Management procedures that use chemicals only as a last resort. New Zealand is well known for the success it's had balancing crop plantings to include those that attract predator insects and creating a healthy life cycle.
    The USDA points to the destruction by the LBAM, (mascot of the environmental movement), to an organic blackberry field in Watsonville during May of 2009 as justification of the program. The San Jose Mercury quoted Larry Hawkins, spokesman for the USDA saying: "We've seen large numbers of LBAM but before now there has not been noticeable damage. Now there is. In ...this particular field over in Santa Cruz County, the grower is not being able to market a substantial amount of the fruit. That's economic damage." Cane-berries, such as raspberries and blackberries make up approximately one fifth of the county's $492 million agricultural output.
    Nan Wishner visited the affected blackberry field. After walking for what seemed miles, she viewed a small patch of infested berries over in a corner, hardly worthy of a massive media campaign. It's been reported that 20% of the field's blackberry crop was affected and couldn't be sold.

    Amazingly and backing the position taken by ecologists, no further incidents of infestation were reported as of the end of September. What's perhaps even more amazing is how the ecology movement has grown from hippies saving whales and hugging trees to the powerful worldwide movement it is today.















 














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