Albany Stands Up Against Spray, Tree Removal

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday January 22, 2008

Posted Wed., Jan. 23—The little town of Albany stood up Tuesday night, first to the University of California and then to the California Food and Drug Administration and the CFDA partner, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The City Council condemned the UC Berkeley’s decision to cut down some 300 trees on the university-owned Gill Tract property at Marin and San Pablo avenues, claiming that only some of the trees are damaged. The council authorized its attorney to go to court to block what some community members called “clear cutting” if a delay in removing the trees—except for seriously diseased Monterey Pines—cannot otherwise be negotiated.  

The university said it plans to begin cutting down the trees as early as Jan. 26. 

And the council passed a strongly worded resolution opposing CDFA plans for aerial spraying to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM). 

The state had planned to begin spraying Alameda County in the spring in its ongoing efforts to eradicate the LBAM. But Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the council meeting, the CDFA/USDA released their decision to delay the aerial spraying, according to John Connell, CDFA Plant Health & Pest Prevention Services director, who told the council and some 45 people who waited until past 11 p.m. to hear the discussion on the moth. 

After the state sprayed in the fall in the Monterey and Santa Cruz areas, hundreds of people reported feeling ill. Santa Cruz and Monterey counties filed lawsuits, alleging CDFA failed to perform an environmental impact report before spraying. The EIR would have included a range of alternatives to the spray and would have considered public comment. 

“In consultation with the technical working group, an international panel of experts, that panel recommended that CDFA/USDA take a look at other materials that have become available for the [eradication of] the light brown apple moth,” Connell said. “They do remain committed that this moth should be eradicated, and the primary tools to achieve that eradication would be an aerial application” of a product designed to disrupt mating behavior of the moths. 

A new product is being developed and tested in New Zealand, however, Connell said, noting that the CDFA expects to get the results of New Zealand trials of the product by early April. 

Once they decide which product to use, the CDFA will first go back to the Santa Cruz/Monterey area to continue spraying there, then on to the Bay Area, Connell said.  

Meanwhile, the state plans to use other methods of eradication. They are evaluating, among other means, traps tied to host plants with pheromone mixed with a small amount of pesticide that would attract then kill the male moths, according to a Jan. 22 CDFA/USDA press statement. 

Neither the council nor the public was convinced that aerial spaying using the newer product should take place. 

“There’s no information in what was released today,” Nan Wishner, chair of the Albany Integrated Pest Management Task Force, told the council. "The concern is that [the product] is used with aerial spraying.” 

The spray used in the Santa Cruz area, Checkmate OLF-F and Checkmate LBAM-F, contains a synthetic pheromone, scents designed to confuse male moths to keep them from mating. When sprayed from the air, the pheromones are contained in microcapsules with ingredients some say are potentially harmful, such as formaldehydes.  

Opponents of the spraying say the microcapsules can cause lung damage, while the state says the product is safe. 

Albany resident Ed Fields objected to the state use of the new product: “We will be the subject of the tests—they will try it out on us,” he said.  

The council was unanimous in its opposition to the spray: “Even a few people being hurt is not acceptable,” said Councilmember Farid Javandel. 

While the resolution cannot prevent the state from going ahead with its plans, Mayor Robert Lieber said it was important to take a stand. “We need a grassroots movement to say it’s not OK” to spray for the moth, Lieber told the Planet after the meeting. “We need to start having an effect on other communities.” 

The state will make a presentation to the Berkeley City Council on the LBAM Feb. 26.  

A community meeting on the spray will take place Jan. 30 7:30 p.m. at the Center for Environmental Health, 528 61st St., Oakland.