Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gypsy Moth Threat Seen In Ojai

Inspectors step up hunt for feared pest, seven found in Ojai Valley so far

By Daryl Kelley
State inspectors began this week a survey of the Ojai Valley to determine the extent of a summer infestation of gypsy moths, a pest that can devastate oaks and other hardwood trees, officials said.
Seven alien gypsy moths, apparent hitchhikers on recreational vehicles from the northeastern United States, were discovered in traps north of Baldwin Road between June 17 and July 22, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
No more have been found since, officials said.
But the summer catch was serious enough to prompt this fall’s survey to find out if gypsy moths are laying eggs locally, then to kill them before the resulting baby caterpillars eat many times their weight in leaves.
Since the summer discoveries, the number of traps in the four-square-mile area around the catches has been increased from 14 to 144, said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the Department of Food and Agriculture. The state usually maintains two traps per square mile in the Ojai Valley, he said.
In addition, there will be 10 state inspectors assigned to the survey, he said.
A single gypsy moth caterpillar can eat 1 square foot of leaves every day, experts say. And they have wrought devastation on vast swaths of woodland of the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes regions since migrating from Europe in the 1800s.
Once a tree is repeatedly defoliated, it is susceptible to disease, and often dies.
Two gypsy moths were discovered in Meiners Oaks in 2000, and eradicated by the state before establishing a permanent population. Four more were discovered in the Ojai Valley last year, Lyle said.
“It is important to detect and eradicate gypsy moth infestations while the population is still small,” says a Food and Agriculture flier announcing the survey that was recently sent to local residents.
“If a larger infestation were to develop in Ojai,” the flier says, “the gypsy moth caterpillars would threaten oaks in this region as well as other hardwoods, evergreens, man-zanita, cottonwood, willow and others.
It is also a threat to forests and agri-cultural crops such as fruit trees.”
Generally, however, gypsy moths are not a big problem for farmers in California, said Susan Johnson, Ventura County’s chief deputy agricultural commission. So far, every outbreak of gypsy moth infestation in this state has been eradicated, state officials said.
“It’s not an agricultural pest, it’s a pest of open spaces and viewsheds,” Johnson said. “It infests oaks and hardwood trees.”
Masses of eggs, appearing as buff-colored felt, are found on trees and on transportable items such as RVs, outdoor play equipment, barbecues and campers, according to state officials.
New infestations are primarily caused when these items are moved from infested areas such as the eastern United States, where millions of gypsy moths strip broad stands of trees and bushes each year.
The moth threat has prompted concern among local landowners, such as the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, which oversees more than 1,930 acres of open space.
“It’s definitely worrisome,” said Stevie Adams, a biologist who is project manager for the conservancy. “One reason these non-native invasive species are so successful is that other local plants and animals haven’t evolved to compete with them.”
Still, at this point, the number of moths discovered — and the fact that none has been found recently — indicates that they’re “still controllable,” Adams said. “But if something isn’t done to make sure they don’t establish a population here, then we’re very concerned.”
That’s because the moths tend to target the very types of native trees the conservancy is spending its time and money trying to restore.
The state is moving on the problem. Adams said she was contacted early this week by Food and Agriculture inspectors asking permission to inspect for moths on conservancy property along the Ventura River north of Baldwin Road.
“We really hope everyone gives them permission to do that,” she said.
If they’re still around, gypsy moths should be laying their eggs right now on trees and on “almost any outdoor object,” according to the state flier.
The eggs are laid in masses that are light yellow-orange in color, often on the bark of trees. Any sighting should be reported to a state pest hot line at (800) 491-1899, officials said.
“What will determine if there’s a breeding population is the egg mass survey,” said Johnson of the county agricultural commis-sioner’s office. “They lay their eggs right now and they generally hatch in the summer.”
If a population of moths is found, it can be attacked with an organic insecticide, she said.
“That is the standard if you have a breeding population,” she said.
Also, a quarantine may be established against the gypsy moths, Johnson said. That would amount to inspecting motor homes at the California border if they are arriving from infected areas, she said. And local inspectors would follow up in Ventura County to make sure none of the pests remain on the vehicles or equipment that were in infected regions. Those areas stretch from Maine to Wisconsin to Virginia.
“They may do visual inspections on mobile homes and patio furniture,” Johnson said.
If 10 moths or more are found in a breeding season in one area — such as the Ojai Valley — and there is evidence that the moth population is growing, a quarantine may be imposed, said the state’s Lyle.
In the Ojai Valley, as inspectors call for permission to scan local property, they will be armed with government identification, officials said.
“Property owners will be notified in advance,” the Food and Agriculture flier said. And they were this week.

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