SACRAMENTO — 'Tis the season when Christmas ornaments come down, but $2.7 million worth of new decorations are going up on trees and bushes in California's big cities.
Trying to defend crops from dangerous bugs without offending city people, the state Department of Food and Agriculture is putting up 18,000 more insect detection traps in the state's urban regions.
The goal is to spot bug invasions early and stamp them out fast without spraying insecticide from helicopters.
That way, the DFA hopes to avoid organized protests from city dwellers like those that embittered its 1980-82 campaign against the Mediterranean fruit fly in the south San Francisco Bay region, and its eradication of the Mexican fruit fly in Los Angles County this year.
By next summer, the state of California will be salted with a record 140,000 traps to detect pests everywhere from the Imperial Valley to the North Coast. State and county workers will be checking them every few days.
Many traps are three-sided cardboard boxes, smeared on the inside with a sticky chemical lure to attract the bugs and then imprison them. The traps monitor pests but are not a weapon for eradication.
The 18,000 new traps are designed for the Medfly and the Mexican and Oriental fruit flies. Three Southland counties--Los Angeles, Kern and Orange--will get 11,000 of them, with another 7,000 destined for the San Francisco area and the San Joaquin Valley.
"We want to find infestations while they are still small," said DFA Assistant Director I. A. Siddiqui. "The idea is to minimize the need for projects that use aerial sprays."
No Promises Made
Siddiqui carefully avoids any promise that aerial spraying will not be used again in an emergency.
However, defense is now the name of the game. The state will spend $34.7 million on insect warfare in the current 1984-85 fiscal year. Much of it will be for prevention, including the 16 border inspection stations and the one-time $2.7-million layout to put up the new traps. About $6 million of the money will be raised by direct assessments on growers, mostly in the cotton industry.
Like the FBI's list of 10 most wanted criminals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has its list of 10 most dangerous insects. As the year ended, four of them were active in California--the boll weevil, the Japanese beetle, the Oriental fruit fly and the Gypsy moth.
The state also has the pink bollworm, another cotton killer; the carob moth, which eats dates, and a spreading invasion of the apple maggot from Oregon.
Raisers of bees for honey and pollination are fretting over the spread of the bee-killing arcane mite in other states. In late 1984, inspections of incoming hives were tightened in an effort to block it from California. There is no control for the mite but destroying beehives.
On balance, the DFA made some progress in 1984 in the struggle with crop pests:
- Nowadays bugs hitchhike all over the world on jetliners. Worried that foreign crop pests might ride in with visitors to the Los Angeles Olympics, state and federal entomologists set up a stiff inspection program. So far, their fears have not materialized, but Siddiqui says the post-Olympic bug watch is still on.
- The state gained ground in its fight against the cotton-destroying boll weevil when Arizona and Mexico agreed to join California in an eradication program. A year ago, DFA Director Clare Berryhill was threatening an embargo on Arizona cotton unless Arizona put up its share of money for the campaign.
- An outbreak of the Mexican fruit fly was eradicated in the Hawthorne area of Los Angeles County in August, after a five-month aerial spraying campaign. It drew strong protests from environmentalists and community organizers.
- At the year's end, the DFA entomologists still had one active dispute with city people in the Sacramento suburb of Orangevale, where the state has been trying since 1983 to quell an outbreak of the Japanese beetle. The controversy will resume in the spring if the beetle reappears.
There were some scares during the year.
The Caribbean fruit fly, another of the "10 most dangerous," landed in the San Diego area in February. A quick campaign of spraying from the ground snuffed it out.
There were single finds of the Medfly in traps in Beverly Hills and the Santa Barbara area, but infestations did not develop. Entomologists guessed that the flies were isolated jet travelers from Hawaii.
Two specimens of the peach fly, a notorious crop destroyer in India, were found near Los Angeles International Airport. It was the first time the bug had been seen in North America. A local treatment program apparently wiped it out.
Bug by bug, here is how California's insect wars are going: