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Amid a lawsuit and growing pressure from state lawmakers, California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura announced today that the state has halted all plans for aerial pesticide spraying as a way to fight the light brown apple moth in urbanized parts of the state. Instead, state and federal officials will release sterile moths to combat the moth.

Many North Bay residents are cheering the decision. But some in Sonoma County’s agricultural community are concerned that even less-invasive methods of attack, such as twist-ties which are laced with a chemical that confuses the male moth, are already under attack and may be the next to go.

State agricultural workers had planned this week to start setting out the 8-inch-long twist ties in two neighborhoods northwest of the town of Sonoma. These are the areas where two moths — one in each neighborhood — were found earlier this month, causing the state to set up a 15-square-mile moth quarantine zone.

But more than 20 neighbors have already objected to the twist-tie program. It was postponed Tuesday when federal agriculture officials belatedly realized that a creek runs through one of the neighborhoods. Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been asked to determine whether any endangered species live in or near the creek before the program can continue. Meanwhile, a hearing before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has been scheduled for July 8.

Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, says contentions that twist-ties are unsafe and untested are unfair and founded. “Mating disruption with similar pheromones for other insects . . . have been used for years,” Frey wrote to me. “There would not likely be organic fruit production without mating disruption. It is non-toxic and does not kill insects, birds or pets.”

“Sonoma County has a good chance of being declared free from (light brown apple moth) if continued trapping is negative,” he said. He noted that the biological impacts of the moth may be debatable but the economic impacts to nurseries, vegetable producers and grape growers are “significant” given that the moth is considered a “Class A pest.”

A U.S. Agriculture Department study concluded that if California is classified as “generally infested,” the crop damage could be between $160 million and $640 million a year.

What do you think? Should the state ban twist-ties, or should the state do everything possible to eradicate the leaf-munching moth?

-Paul Gullixson