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Squeeze Play: Members of the Monterey Bay Toxic Actions Coalition question the use of pesticides against the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which is a vector but not the cause of Pierce's Disease.

Nüz

Monster Bugs

Did the State of California declare a glassy-winged sharpshooter emergency to get around its own CEQA review procedures? Does the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a vector of the dreaded vine-zapping Pierce's Disease, really pose an imminent threat to Santa Cruz County's grape and nursery industry? And did the Board of Supervisors agree to the inclusion of pesticides in the Agricultural Commissioner's Response/Control Program for Pierce's Disease for fear it would otherwise lose $140,000 worth of state funding?

These were just some of the questions raised at the Jan. 9 Board of Supervisors' meeting, which ended with the board unanimously approving an amended, but pesticide-inclusive version of ag commissioner David Moeller's prevention work plan--a decision that saw Monterey Bay Toxic Actions Coalition member Marilyn Garrett storm from the room, chanting, "No protection of our rights! It's all about money!"

"Squeeze play" was how attorney and former mayor Celia Scott described the board's decision, adding that money did seem to have been "the bottom line." In a letter dated Jan. 8, Scott urged that the Board "NOT approve the work plan as proposed ... since Santa Cruz County is admittedly a noninfested area, where no local emergency exists ... without CEQA review there is no way for either the Board of Supervisors or the public to be fully informed as to the potential environmental impacts of any particular treatment or control option should an infestation be detected, and in particular if a pesticide control strategy be proposed."

After the meeting, Scott lamented that "since SB671 [the bill that allocated money for research, detection and control of Pierce's disease] says nothing about spraying, neither do the regulations, [and] the Board could have passed a plan asking for the use of biological controls."

Meanwhile, Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt, while admitting that she doesn't "believe that the glassy-winged sharpshooter situation is an emergency, and therefore [the response plan] should have been subject to CEQA," seems pleased with a plan that will allow the board to get the money for detection as well as review any proposed pesticide use. "Yes, we could have said that we weren't going to use a pesticide, but then the state would have come in and taken over, or not given us the funds," said Wormhoudt, adding that pesticide implementation isn't likely to happen, since the bug comes in by hitchhiking on produce like grapes and nursery stock, and fairly significant restrictions are already in place."

Agricultural Commissioner Moeller isn't so reassuring: "Pierce's Disease could be quickly introduced into noninfected areas, as a result of nursery stock movement," he says.

Though glassy-winged sharpshooters do not cause Pierce's Disease--which is the real threat to the county's $1.5 million grape crops and $32.8 million nursery industry--they're considered to be a potential delivery system for Pierce's Disease bacteria, because they feed on plants by sucking their stems for sap.

Though the board has vetoed any aerial spraying, the issue of control over potential ground applications is still hanging.

According to John Dyer, supervising counsel to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, "while the state would evacuate residents for two to three days if it sprayed on private property, it would have no control of when growers spray, and I don't imagine that growers' neighbors would be given notice."

What would happen if the Board of Supervisors vetoed all spraying?

"Santa Cruz County wouldn't be able to export its nursery stock anywhere else, which would have some dire economic consequences," Dyer says.

When asked about using alternative biological controls, Moeller had this to say: "All the worm casts in the world won't prevent glassy-winged sharpshooters from infecting vineyards, nor will hedgerows filled with beneficial insects stop them from infecting commercial nurseries. If we get a threatening pest, we can't wait to improve soil health--that doesn't happen overnight."

Meanwhile, David Blume of the International Institute for Ecological Agriculture in Woodside feels that Moeller's "map-and-spray" attitude is "a little behind the times." Says Blume, "Pesticides have only had a 75 percent success rate in eliminating glassy-winged sharpshooters in Southern California, but have also killed spiders that naturally prey upon these bugs, along with wasps that parasitize 90 percent of the insects' egg masses. Should CDFA be using taxpayer dollars to declare chemical warfare on all insects and humans, because of a disease that is due to widespread monoculture wine grapes, poor farming practices and severe erosion? Besides, the bug is from Brazil. It likes to be warm. The further north it goes, the harder the going is going to get."

Nostradamus Was Right!

You may recognize the Independent Media Center from its role in anti-WTO actions in Seattle and protests against the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles and the Republican Convention in Philadelphia. The highly organized group's next event is "J20," which is, of course, the date of George W. Bush's presidential inauguration. The main event will be held in Washington D.C., which, says local documentary filmmaker Lisa Mastramico, "is where the coronation--oops! I mean inauguration will take place." Mastramico, who wanted to go to Washington but couldn't afford the trip, will be heading for San Francisco's Civic Center instead, along with others disenchanted with our new "Prez." Their mission? To register their discontent with apparent harassment of African Americans in Florida on election day; Supreme Court justices with familial connections to Bush-owned businesses; and, oh yes, that little matter of the half-million votes invalidated by the Electoral College.

Other more localized forms of protest are on the event horizon. The Santa Cruz Organizing Team, an ad hoc group made up of the United Farm Workers, the UCSC Green Party, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Santa Cruz Action Network, will gather at the Clock Tower on Saturday at noon and march to the Santa Cruz County Courthouse where they will hold a rally. Simultaneously, Art and Revolution, a local street-theater puppet group, will act out the coronation of "King George" at Cooper and Pacific streets.

For the more mild-mannered, Alexis English and the UCSC Green Party offer this alternative: "We are encouraging people citywide to wear black armbands, symbolizing the death of democracy, and to engage in conversation with friends, family and co-workers. We don't want the day to go by like business as usual."

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From the January 17-24, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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