Critics gave state agriculture officials meeting Wednesday in Sonoma a litany of reasons why they don't like various options for battling the light brown apple moth in California.
The hearing at the veterans building attracted only 25 people, but that still amounted to the largest crowd to appear at any of the first five meetings held statewide on an environmental impact report on how to eradicate the moth. Two more hearings will be held next week in Watsonville and Oakland.
Two farming representatives supported the five options under review to fight the pest, a native of Australia that was first confirmed in Sonoma County two years ago. The state is expected to develop an eradication plan after it certifies the environmental report, perhaps later this year.
Critics, including an organic farmer, a Marin County real estate association leader and several opponents of pesticide use, raised a variety of concerns Wednesday.
The most vociferous insisted that the moth isn't a real threat, eradication is impossible and the state agriculture department is using the insect as a way to get its hands on millions of federal dollars available for pest eradication.
"I think it's time for this sham to be recognized for what it is," said Virginia Souders-Mason of the Kentfield group Pesticide Free Zone.
But Tito Sasaki, a board member for the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said no government action would force farmers to individually battle the moth and "only lead to the increased use of pesticides."
State officials and consultants recorded comments and didn't respond during the meeting. Later, department spokeswomen Josilyn Preskar said the eradication program is a good-faith effort to stop the spread of an insect that can harm state agriculture and native plants.
"We have world-renowned experts telling us this is a significant pest and it can be eliminated," Preskar said.
With $75 million worth of federal aid, California has trapped more than 110,000 moths in the past two years and currently has placed nearly 3,500 square miles of land under quarantine. According to revised estimates, that includes about a fifth of all the vineyards in Sonoma County.
Quarantined growers face restrictions in moving their crops, but county officials have said none have been prevented from reaching market.
The state ran into intense opposition after it conducted aerial spraying of a synthetic chemical to disrupt moth mating over Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in 2007.
State officials since have said they won't conduct aerial spraying over populated areas, and instead they plan to battle the insect by releasing millions of sterile male moths as a means of disrupting mating. A small trial release of sterile moths may begin later this year in Sonoma and Napa counties.
The environmental report looks at five options, including the sterile moth release and the use of "moth disruption" pheromones infused on plastic twist ties or sprayed by air. Aerial spraying would occur only over remote roadless areas, officials have said.
The department and its critics are at odds over how long the moth has been in California and whether the 2007 spraying resulted in hundreds of people becoming ill.
The critics have received support from state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, head of the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee. He held a hearing Tuesday in Sacramento where university scientists and others raised concerns about the moth eradication program. Department officials didn't attend, saying in a statement that testifying "could pre-judge the issues" before the completion of the environmental reporting process.