(April 21) The joint effort by the California Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fight an infestation of the light brown apple moth continues to encounter roadblocks.

The result could be the use of stronger, more conventional tools to eradicate the pest, said Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the state agency.

“We have the responsibility, as does the (U.S.) Department of Agriculture, to protect the agriculture industry and the environment,” Lyle said.

The agencies are using ground applications and aerial spraying of Checkmate, a synthetic pheromone that disrupts the mating cycle of the apple moth, in the more heavily infested areas. Santa Cruz County, which is home to the state’s largest commercial strawberry growing region, failed in an attempt to secure a temporary restraining order against the spraying. It is pushing the legal battle and has filed a brief with the court challenging whether the emergency clauses of the California Environmental Quality Act permit spraying as an environmental impact report is prepared. Telephone calls to Santa Cruz County officials were not returned.

In its response filed with the court the week of April 14, the state agriculture department argued that a delay in the use of Checkmate would permit more of the pests to reproduce and would ultimately result in the use of a stronger pesticide. That stronger alternative, Lyle said, is bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as BT, a naturally-occurring bacterium that is non-specific.

“We could have chosen to spray with BT which is a pesticide that kills,” Lyle said.

The state-federal task force has been able to confine the apple moth infestation to nine northern California counties. State officials have estimated that annual crop losses could exceed $600 million if the pest is able to migrate to the San Joaquin Valley. A Department of Agriculture study concluded crop damage could reach into the billions of dollars annually if California becomes generally infested.