A person who starts a forest or wild lands fire – accidentally or deliberately – is liable for damages caused and the cost to contain it.

The same penalty should be applied to the person or persons who introduced the European grapevine moth (EGVM) into California, likely on smuggled, illegal plant material. They should be held financially responsible for the disruption of trade; costs for farmers to control the pest; and the economic fallout from EGVM quarantines.

The person(s) who illegally brought the pest into the state have put a significant part of California agriculture at risk and not just the $3.9 billion grape industry. Before this crisis is over, it could be economically devastating to the state’s fresh fruit industry.

I am all for sending them to prison as well as holding the smuggler(s) financially liable.

Tracie Cone wrote an Associated Press article this spring about how the EGVM probably made its way to the Napa Valley where it is creating economic chaos. It has subsequently been found far from California’s premium wine grape growing areas, reaching the Central Coast and the San Joaquin Valley.

Since it was found in the heart of what the world knows as California wine country, odds are someone who lives or works there brought the pest in on smuggled plant material.

Most grape growers, packers and vintners have known for years that people within the California grape industry illegally smuggle grape cuttings into California without going through mandatory quarantine.

They do it for various reasons. None are valid. As Greg Clark, Napa County deputy county agricultural commissioner said in the article — it is clearly illegal. However, people continue to brag about this outlaw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mentality. Some jokingly call it folklore, but it is not. It is sinister.

Some who smuggle in illegal plant material think they are above the law. Some even suggest something more disgusting; introducing something that hurts a neighbor to give the competing smuggler/neighbor an economic or marketing advantage.

Many years ago table growers were desperate for a California-grown black seedless variety. Several showed up on the market, and it was obvious the varieties were smuggled in illegally. Fortunately, no one was hurt by it. It is difficult to detect these nefarious types who pack suitcases with cuttings or even strap buds to their legs to clear airport security.

The Napa infestation is confined to a relatively small grape growing area. Last year the pest was heavy in only a couple of vineyards in Napa. It would take some sleuthing, but I bet state and federal investigators could uncover the smuggler. He or she should be arrested and made liable for damages and the cost of what they have done, just like the arsonist who starts a forest fire. Napa Valley and the North Coast are already paying a big price for the introduction of this new pest. Hopefully, other areas can be spared.

Regardless, the person who brought in the pest with the smuggled plant material had better get out of Dodge. His outlaw days are over.

email: hcline@farmpress.com