By Kathryn Doorey

Like moths to the flame, Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz County residents are coming together to fight the state’s plan to release pesticides in Santa Cruz. The pesticides are an effort to battle the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM), an invasive pest reported to pose a major threat to crops across the state.

While most counties have already been sprayed, Santa Cruz County has voiced strong opposition, despite having the highest infestation of the insects. Residents are wary of the health concerns that the untested pesticides may pose. 	

The moth, a native of Australia, is present in Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Solano counties. 	

In an effort to obtain more information about the pesticides in question, legal action was recently taken to push back the treatment plan. 	

“Up until [Oct. 19] no one knew what any of the pesticide’s ingredients were,” said David Dilworth, executive director of Helping Our Peninsula’s Environment (HOPE). “Researchers have already found that the pesticides are not safe when inhaled.” 	

According to Dilworth, the government only released information about the pesticide to be sprayed in Santa Cruz County, known as Checkmate-OLR-F. Information regarding the other pesticide, Checkmate-LBAM, which has already been sprayed in other counties, is still unknown. However, Dilworth mentioned that since its release, side-effects among residents have been reported. 	

Enesta Jones, press officer for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), expressed in an email to City on a Hill Press that “a temporary restraining order issued by the California Superior Court, Monterey County to halt the [release of the pesticides] was based in part on the Court’s uncertainty about the safety of one inert ingredient allegedly in the product.

“After additional review, EPA has determined that Checkmate OLR-F does not in fact contain the ingredient. All of the actual ingredients in [these pesticides] have been evaluated for safety and have been found to meet EPA’s requirements for the protection of human health and the environment.” 	

The state department insists on spraying because the moth has ongoing lifecycle, a hearty appetite for over 250 crops, and a year-round mating period.	

According to those opposed to the spraying, there has been no confirmation from officials that the pesticides are safe.

“Democracies do not spray their citizens with powerful, untested pesticides,” Dilworth said. “State and federal [officials] have turned the law upside down. The law requires them to look into the health concerns of these pesticides, but instead they’ve put the burden on us [the citizens].” 	

The pesticides are fabricated female pheromones, designed to steer the males off-track, and significantly reduce the number of offspring produced. However, Dilworth is confident that there is a far better alternative. “The real goal [HOPE] has is to get [the state] to honestly evaluate a real solution: triangle sticky traps,” he said.

These traps, Dilworth continued, are able to catch and kill all moths, whereas the aerial spraying has not shown to have any effect on the moths.

Steve Bontadelli, president of Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, is familiar with the moths’ disturbance. He agrees that the sticky traps would be a more effective alternative, but believes it is not the most practical approach, considering the vast acreage that is to be covered.

“As enough people get information, they will see that [the spraying] is the best way to go about it,” said Bontadelli, a grower himself. “This particular pheromone affects only the moth.”	 	

“I don’t think we could characterize [this incident] that if we don’t [spray], the moths will eat away our forests,” Bontadelli added. “But if we don’t get [the moths] under control, then we will have to start spraying all different kinds of stuff.”

_For more information about efforts to prevent the spraying, go to www.1hope.org/checkmate._