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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

To Spray or Spray Not

As local politicians and environmental groups rattle their paper sabers at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) over its plan to aerially spray chemical pheromones in Santa Cruz County to disrupt the breeding cycle of the light brown apple moth, the organic farming community is siding with the state.

Readers of Nūz may be surprised to learn that many farming groups, including California Certified Organic Farmers, believe concerns over safety are largely unfounded, citing the past spraying of pheromones to disrupt breeding cycles of the gypsy moth, twig borer, oriental fruit moth, codling moth and other pests.

"We firmly support the use of pheromones because this was a technology that was pioneered by the environmental community several years ago and has been used for about 30 years in integrated pest management and in organic farming," says Teresa Thorne of the Alliance for Food and Farming, adding that organic farmers who spray unnatural pesticides would lose their organic certification and may not be recertified for three to five years.

As the CDFA gets ready to spray the first round on Nov. 4 of what will be a months-long regimen in Santa Cruz County, Thorne is confident no harm will come to any of the region's human or animal residents. "We're exposed to pheromones all the time," Thorne says. "Our bodies don't react to them because we can't. Every time you walk through a bunch of gnats, you've walked through a bunch of pheromones. It's a natural product given off by insects."

David Dilworth of the Monterey-based Helping Our Peninsula Environment (HOPE) isn't so sure. He claims agricultural interests are being pandered to at the expense of the democratic process. HOPE went so far as to file a lawsuit against the CDFA over the absence of an Environmental Impact Report before EPA-approved emergency spraying in Monterey County during the first week of September. It is unclear when the suit will be heard.

"This moth has been in Hawaii for 100 years and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture does not consider it a pest," says Dilworth. "Similarly, we know the moth is widespread in California from Napa to Los Angeles. According to UC-Davis entomologists, the moth has been here for a very long time and there is no documented damage from this moth in California. So HOPE does not see that there is any emergency whatsoever."

Nūz rang up Neil Reimer, manager of the pest control branch in Hawaii's Department of Agriculture, to get the skinny on the light brown apple moth. He says that in Hawaii the moth is actually pretty harmless, but that's mostly due to the tropical climate of the island chain, and that drawing parallels to potential impacts on California agriculture misses important differences in climate and crop production between the two states.

"In California it's a very different situation," says Reimer. "We have more tropical-type crops in Hawaii, so things like apples and pears are not in farms but in higher-elevation backyard gardens. In Hawaii the moth is not prevalent in the lower elevations, where most people live, because of the climate conditions. It's not a real problem in the higher elevations because we don't have a lot of crops up there."

Nevertheless, Dilworth and others, including the Santa Cruz chapter of the Sierra Club, would rather play it safe and not release the pheromones. "There is no constitutional right to spray pesticides," Dilworth says.

Pesticides? Hold the phone. While it's not exactly natural, scientists say the characterization of this spray as a pesticide is misleading. In reality, chemists break down the pheromone as it naturally exists in moths into its constituent molecular compounds, and then recombine the compounds in a way that is the most attractive to male moths, according to UC-Riverside entomology expert Dr. Marshall Johnson. "There are actually less constituents in the synthetic version then there are in the natural pheromone," because the chemists only choose the compounds that have the greatest attractive power, says Johnson.

Stay tuned for more on the issue.

So Now What?

As Nūz stood in the hot sun at Abbott Square on Sept. 26 watching the signing of the Climate Action Compact, a few questions came to mind. How hard were the bicyclistas from People Power having to work to power the public address system for the carbon-neutral event? Was this compact "historic" because the city, county and UCSC were cooperating for once, or because municipalities have never before partnered with a university to lower the collective carbon footprint? And while all these pledges to work together to reduce carbon emissions sounded nice, would the compact have any teeth?

Nūz is still wondering about the first two, although when newly anointed Chancellor George Blumenthal commented on the fact that no lawyers were present, he got a big laugh, suggesting the "historic" aspect has to do with cooperation between these three contentious entities more than anything else.

As for the big question—What happens now?—Nūz learned a little something from Supervisor Mark Stone, who's all fired up about the city's new Environment Commission, which is actually the now-defunct Energy Commission plus five more appointees. Stone says the Environment Commission will set benchmarks by which the supes will be able to tell if the compact is working.

"We can state all the intentions we want," he told the crowd, gesturing toward the oversize copy of the compact awaiting signature. "But until we take the steps, there's very little that can be realized from it."

In other words, he told Nūz afterward, "It's exciting because the commission implements this."

Virginia Johnson, who chairs the commission and also serves as executive director for Ecology Action, says she'd like to be presenting the supes with benchmarks by the end of March.

She also described the commission's role as a holistic one, working with other commissions like transportation and planning to "pull together policies that make sense rather than trying to solve problems episodically, in little silos."

"It's not just about planting trees, it's about how buildings are used, how buildings are built, where people live," she said.

Touché, says Nūz. Let's hope this is another example of national trendsetting, Santa Cruz style.

Bike the Talk

Two-wheeled travel gets another free publicity ride with the Ninth Annual Santa Cruz County Fall Bike To Work/School Day, Thursday, Oct. 4. Bicycling commuters get free breakfast from 7 to 10am at a number of sites, including Jamba Juice downtown, Java Junction in Seabright, Coffeetopia on Portola and scads of other places. New this fall is the chance to win $500 dollars by simply signing up at a Bike to Work Day free breakfast site or registering at

Aside from the cash drawing and free grub, other incentives to bike to work include avoiding traffic and waiting at the bus stop, decreasing noise and air pollution in our county and shrinking your waistline while expanding your wallet through tremendous savings on gas, parking tickets and blown head gaskets. And of course there's saving the planet: every mile biked instead of driven keeps a pound of CO2 from being released into the air. Last year Santa Cruz's 4,000 Bike to Work/School participants kept 29,000 pounds of the nasty stuff in its place. Fore info on participating sites, visit or call 831.426.5925.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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