The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has established a quarantine of approximately 10 square miles in the Carpinteria area of Santa Barbara County, following the detection of two light brown apple moths (LBAM). The area is home to many plant nurseries, cut flower growers and avocado producers whose growing grounds will now be subject to extensive inspection and, in some cases, treatment if they are found to be infested. The quarantine took effect on March 21.

“California’s nurseries rank third in agricultural production value, behind only dairy and grapes,” said CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura. “They are a key segment of the state’s economy, they are in the midst of their busiest season, and I fully understand that the additional inspections and expense are onerous — but these steps are mandatory and necessary to eradicate this pest from California and to protect the rest of the state from added quarantines and increased pesticide use over the long term.”

The quarantine boundaries were developed in cooperation with the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). A map of the quarantine zone is available at: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/PDEP/lbam/quarantine.html.

State and federal quarantine regulations prohibit the movement of all nursery stock, all cut flowers, and all host fruits and vegetables and plant parts within or from the quarantined area unless it is certified as “free-from” the pest by an agricultural official; is purchased at a retail outlet; or was produced outside the area and is passing through in accordance with accepted safeguards. Additionally, federal regulations apply host commodities from the entire county if the commodities are moving interstate.

The quarantine applies to residential and public properties as well as plant nurseries, farms and other commercial enterprises. Residents are asked to consume fruits and vegetables from yards and gardens in the area rather than removing them from the property. Landscapers and yard maintenance companies will be among the businesses placed under compliance agreements to ensure that yard waste is disposed of properly. People who are unsure if they are within the quarantine zone are asked to assume that they are.

Moth traps have been set at a rate of 100 in the core square mile and 25 per square mile in the surrounding area. If no additional moths are found over the next few weeks, treatment for the infestation would consist of pheromone-infused twist ties to plants and fences in a 200-meter area around the detection sites in an effort to eradicate the moth population. In contrast to conventional pesticides that kill insects, moth pheromone doesn’t even hurt the light brown apple moth — instead creating mating confusion and mating disruption as the eradication technique. This approach has been successful in similar circumstances and is currently being used in other communities in the Central Coast and Bay Area. Residents and businesses in the area would be notified in advance and a public meeting would be scheduled prior to the application of the twist ties.

The light brown apple moth is native to Australia and is also found in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Hawaii. The range of host plants is broad with hundreds of plant species known to be susceptible to attack by this pest, including more than 250 crops. It threatens California’s environment-including cypress, redwood and oak trees — by destroying, stunting or deforming young seedlings and damaging new growth in the forest canopy. The moth also feeds on host plants favored by a number of endangered species; spoils the appearance of ornamental plants; and injures citrus, grapes, and deciduous fruit tree crops.

A USDA study indicates that, if California becomes generally infested, the moth could cause billions of dollars in crop damage annually. Additionally, it would hinder export opportunities and interstate commerce due to quarantine restrictions, as demonstrated by the quarantines already enacted by Canada and Mexico. California agricultural exports to the two countries totaled more than $2.4 billion in 2006.

A cooperative eradication program run jointly by CDFA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is already underway to suppress and eradicate infestations in nine other counties along California’s Central Coast and Bay Area. Since its detection in February 2007, the light brown apple moth has been found and quarantines have been enacted in the counties of Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, Alameda and Solano. Small, isolated infestations detected last year in Los Angeles and Napa counties have already been eradicated. Twist ties were utilized in both counties.

For more information on light brown apple moth, visit www.cdfa.ca.gov.