It’s a creature that is lighter than air with a heavy, high-impact acronym.

It’s LBAM — the light brown apple moth.

Agriculture authorities are gathering information for a re-focus of the controversial plan to eradicate the moth as it alights in more California regions. And as the LBAM larvae munch on more orchard leaves and fruit.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has just concluded a series of seven hearings around the state to gather public comment on a court-ordered Environmental Impact Report outlining potential elements of a continued eradication program.

The period for accepting comments, including by email, extends through Sept. 28.

You can sample the 1,500-page report here.

Hearings aired a deep public skepticism from dozens of speakers about the need for eradication, the health effects of 2007 aerial spraying of microencapsulated pheromones (chemical secretions that affect mating behavior) in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and the prospects for further spraying.

The draft EIR looks at several alternatives that could be used alone or in combination for future eradication. These include attempts to disrupt LBAMs’ ability to reproduce by introducing parasitic wasps or sterilized apple moths or pheromones. Other alternatives are the insecticides permethrin, bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki and Spinosad.

That prospect enraged residents who spoke recently at hearings in Watsonville and Oakland. “The program is morally wrong” and “based on flawed science,” said Carolyn Cohan of Tiburon, speaking at the Oakland hearing. She is a member of Mothers of Marin Against the Spray.

Cohan and other Oakland speakers cited the number of people who were treated for respiratory problems, headaches, blurred vision and strep throat after the 2007 Central Coast spraying in 2007. Cohan also noted the vulnerability of children to pesticides. Other speakers talked about the potential to aggravate their immune system problems from the spraying of insecticides or pheromone compounds.

The hearings were structured so that CDFA officials recorded input without responding to points made. In an interview after the hearing, Michael Jarvis, a public information officer for the agriculture agency, noted that the draft EIR contemplated spraying in remote areas.

“We aren’t going to be doing aerial spraying over populated areas,” Jarvis said.

With quarantining operations, moth trapping and the potential for resumed eradication efforts, Jarvis said, state and federal efforts are ably implemented on the county level. 

“County agriculture commissioners are in a difficult spot with the expectations that we are putting on them, the federal government is putting on them, the farmers are putting on them, and ultimately they need to answer to the board of supervisors,” he said.

With a growing quarantining program, Monterey County is strapped at a time where fiscal restraints preclude more hiring, said Eric Lauritzen, the county agriculture commissioner.

Last year, when Canada and Mexico included Monterey in their U.S. quarantine areas because of LBAM, it meant the county had to increase — from about 15,000 to 20,000 — the phytosanitary certificates (guaranteeing plant cleanliness) it issues for local plant exports, he said.

The county has absorbed that workload by redirecting resources, Lauritzen said.
LBAM has done the most damage to cane berries such as raspberry and blackberry, Lauritzen said, and less so to strawberries.

While the effectiveness of eradication plans and extent of the problem are debated in CDFA hearings, Lauritzen noted, the growers are impacted by quarantine orders from the big trading partners, causing the county to put new quarantining restrictions on growers.

In recent months, LBAM infestation has been found in south county areas in Greenfield and Gonzalez, threatening wine grape growers and vineyards, Lauritzen said. This has led the county to implement compliance agreements with those businesses.

In 2007, California authorities first identified LBAM, a native of Australia, in Berkeley, according to state documents (residents who testified at hearings questioned this timetable, suggesting that the moth has been around for decades and that the state is creating a sense of urgency to qualify for federal funds for LBAM efforts.

With more trapping and LBAM identifications, quarantine areas have grown to cover 13 counties, ranging from Napa and Sonoma on the north, including most of the Bay Area, to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in the south.

The area of quarantine is some 3,500 square miles, Jarvis said, an area larger than Delaware plus Rhode Island.

In Sonoma County, for example, quarantining affects 64 nurseries and 440 winegrape, 16 apple and 35 vegetable growers, according to a May news release by the county ag commissioner.

Statewide, new pockets of LBAM infestation have been recorded this year in Davis and Manteca. The state draft EIR contemplates a future spread nearly statewide, excluding only areas of high desert, the high Sierra and Imperial County.

Robert Lieber, a City Council member in Albany, Alameda County, thinks the state’s plans are behind the times in planning for insecticide spraying.

“I’d like to see them move toward an integrated pest management philosophy for farming,” said Lieber, a Registered Nurse who spoke at the CDFA’s Oakland hearing.

“They are entrenched in an old philosophy that is about power and loading chemicals.”

Lieber said the draft EIR states that if agencies take no action to curb LBAM, it will lead to landowners themselves applying more pesticides. He said that assumption is not necessarily valid, noting that the draft EIR does not confirm the amount and extent of moth damage.

The Albany council in January 2008 passed a resolution opposing aerial spraying. Later that spring, the CDFA eradication plans, including aerial spraying, were derailed by separate superior court rulings in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The judges mandated the state to file an LBAM eradication EIR, as prescribed by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Visit for information from one community group opposed to the state’s eradication plans.

Lance Howland can be reached at