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Governor Declares a State of Emergency : Medflies: His declaration cites 'extreme peril' to agriculture. It was needed before malathion spraying could begin over populated areas.

October 08, 1994|JOANNA M. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the Medfly infestation in eastern Camarillo widened, Gov. Pete Wilson on Friday declared a state of emergency in Ventura County that cited conditions of "extreme peril to the agriculture industry."

Wilson's declaration came one day after aerial malathion spraying was ordered over a 16-square-mile area of fields and residences in eastern Camarillo and Somis to prevent the spread of the county's first Mediterranean fruit fly infestation.

Aerial spraying of the region--containing a population of 29,000--begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday barring bad weather, and will continue every two weeks for about six months. Wilson's emergency order was needed before helicopters could begin an air assault over any populated area.

"We're going into the air because the potential for loss of crops in Ventura County is so great and the number of people employed in agriculture there so many," Wilson spokeswoman Kristine Berman said. "We could also face an embargo from Japan or domestically."

In addition to the aerial spraying of residential areas--which required the governor's approval--some growers in the spray zone and the wider 86-square-mile quarantine area imposed earlier this week were proceeding with plans of their own for low-level aerial malathion spraying limited strictly to fields and orchards.

Although aerial spraying of malathion over agricultural areas receives little attention in the absence of Medfly infestations, it is a relatively routine practice. As long as the spraying is confined to fields, no special approval by the governor is required.

The aerial spraying zone announced Thursday is limited to eastern Camarillo and a stretch of unincorporated county land around Somis. But the larger quarantine area extends into parts of Moorpark and Thousand Oaks. Growers in those areas with fruit that is a host for Medflies will have to pay for low-level aerial spraying of malathion on their fields if they want to ship their produce outside the quarantine area.

In justifying the need for the aerial spraying, county Agriculture Commissioner Earl McPhail estimated that up to 22,000 people work in the agriculture industry in the county and up to $439 million in crops could be at risk.

In a Ventura County emergency declaration Tuesday, Sheriff Larry Carpenter asked the governor to seek a federal declaration from President Clinton. But Sean Walsh, a spokesman for the governor, said Friday that Wilson had decided to wait.

"Because we acted so quickly, we expect to knock this pest down so quickly that costs will be minimal and we won't need a federal emergency declaration," Walsh said. At this point, no disaster funds are considered available to growers, but assessments of damages will continue through the quarantine period, he said.

A delegation from Japan, which buys about one-third of the county's $216-million lemon crop and substantial quantities of oranges and avocados, will arrive in California Tuesday.

They will tour the Cooperative Medfly Project facilities in Los Angeles County, where a team of state and federal agriculture officials oversees the state's Medfly eradication programs, before coming to Ventura County.

The delegation is expected to arrive in Camarillo on Wednesday, said Rex Laird, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.

"They will be looking for our level of diligence in controlling the infestation, how organized we are and how well we can track the fruit from the packinghouse through the Port of Hueneme to exclude exposure to them," he said.

Although the Japanese will not accept any fruit from within the 86-square-mile quarantine area, growers and state and local officials fear Japan may place an embargo on the entire county, or possibly the state.

"A lot depends on what happens next week when the Japanese tour the area," Laird said. But he said the potential for financial disaster with the Medfly infestation is great.

"In all my 14 years in the county, through frost and flood and drought, I can't think of anything worse for potential across-the-board losses in the county than this."

The new finds confirmed Friday brought the total Medfly count to three egg-carrying females and 60 males. All males were found within a quarter-mile of the site where the first two females were found last week, in the center of a grove on the grounds of St. John's Seminary.

The most recent female fly found was more than a mile from the original site, still within the grove and away from the road.

Since Los Angeles County began its program of releasing sterile males to mate with fertile female Medflies four years ago, the sterile flies have been routinely found in Ventura County along major routes and highways.

Based on those finds, Laird said he always expected that any Medfly infestation would be found along a major highway or route, and not in the center of an orchard.

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