There will be no Bay Area aerial spraying for the light brown apple moth, A.J. Kawamura, California agriculture secretary, announced Thursday afternoon in a conference call to the media.
Instead the department will release hundreds of thousands of sterile moths to mate with the LBAM in the wild to eradicate the population.
“There is no reproduction and the population collapses,” Kawamura explained. “This greatly reduces the need for aerial spraying.”
The program is planned to begin in a pilot phase at the end of fall or beginning of winter, then continue with a larger program. Kawamura was unable to say where the program would begin.
Aerial spraying could still take place outside urban areas, where the moth release was difficult, he said.
Kawamura sidestepped questions about whether the outcry from individuals, organizations and cities and the lawsuits and legislation targeting the spray had put pressure on the department, but instead apologized for not effectively getting the message for the need for aerial spraying out to the public.
“I want to do a better job of outreach,” he said.
He said the reason for the sterile moth program was that the colonies being bred in a laboratory in Albany had successfully ramped up production of the sterile moths, which he had thought would take years.
“That allows us to make the replacement” of the aerial spray program, he said.
Activists opposing the spray welcomed the announcement.
“It's a good step,” said Tom Kelly, a Berkeley resident with Stop the Spray East Bay. “I'm certainly anxious to see the full extent of the proposal.”
Kelly credited not only the core group that had been working for months to stop the aerial spray but the involvement of a growing number of “average people.”
“The governor wants us to push harder to use this tool,” Kawamura said.
Kawamura said the department would use also use twist ties with a synthetic pheromone-a scent which confuses male moths so that they cannot find females-in areas where the LBAM infestation is heavy.
Asked if there are any downsides to the program, Kawamura said the department has been using the technology for decades. “It's the safest tool we've been able to use,” he said.
Despite the intention to release sterile moths, Kawamura said the department is continuing its appeal of decisions in the Santa Cruz and Monterey lawsuits, both of which require an environmental impact report before aerial spraying takes place in those counties. The department is continuing to prepare an EIR for aerial spraying, he said.