Fear the Fruit Fly

Psyllid Discoveries May Prompt Pesticide Spraying

The California Department of Food and Agriculture could soon be dispatching squads of pesticide applicators to private residences located near downtown Goleta to coat the leaves of all noncommercially grown citrus trees with chemicals designed to kill an Asian fruit fly that’s decimated citrus crops elsewhere in the United States. Agents with the county’s Agriculture Commissioner’s Office have found one psyllid ​— ​the Asian fruit fly ​— ​in Goleta; they’ve found five in Santa Barbara near the Earl Warren Showgrounds. What makes the psyllid so devastating to citrus crops is a bacteria it carries for which no defense has been found. Although none of the psyllids trapped on the South Coast have carried the bacteria in question, state ag officials argue the pesticide campaign is still warranted; by the time the bacteria are found, they argue, it’s already too late. The state has opted not to push the matter in Santa Barbara, however, because the psyllids were found a sufficient distance from commercial citrus operations to pose an acceptable risk.

In Goleta, by contrast, two commercial operations are located within a quarter mile of the spot where the psyllid was trapped. Area beekeepers have opposed the chemical applications, objecting that the compounds involved kill bee populations. Most destructive is a synthetic variant of nicotine that’s injected into the soil near citrus trees ​— ​and is absorbed for years to come from the roots to the flowers by the targeted trees ​— ​and inflicts lethal nerve damage on both fruit flies and bees. The beekeepers have argued the chemicals involved have been linked to an onslaught of colony collapse afflicting bee populations throughout much of the United States. In Montecito, a large-scale hive die-off may be linked to the residential use of such pesticides nearby. Before the pesticide crews can be dispatched, the state and county agricultural agencies must first notify affected property owners and hold a public hearing. Typically, the spraying starts two days after. While that hearing date has not been set yet, one is expected very soon.

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