Pointless bickering and unsubstantiated fears have delayed eradication efforts targeting the light brown apple moth in Sonoma County for nearly a year.

In the meantime, an infestation once limited to a couple neighborhoods near Sonoma has spread dramatically and now spans the county from the Carneros region to the Sebastopol area. An apple moth was found in Healdsburg for the first time last month.

Is anyone surprised?

Statewide, more than 2,400 square miles ? including much of the Bay Area ? are under agricultural quarantines due to the moth, an uninvited import from Australia that threatens the livelihoods of farmers and nursery owners, as well as fruit, vegetables and ornamentals grown in back yard gardens.

With a wider infestation, more aggressive eradication efforts almost certainly will follow.

In Sonoma County, there are so many moths ? and they are so widespread ? that state and federal agriculture officials have given up on plans for a targeted eradication program using pest-control methods employed by organic farmers.

The quarantines cover grapes, produce and other crops grown in areas infested by the half-inch pest, which was first confirmed in California two years ago. The apple moth is considered a threat to 2,000 plant species, including 250 crops.

Exotic pests already cost the state?s growers $3 billion a year, according to the Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside. The last thing anyone needs is another pest feasting on young seedlings and damaging fruit.

After an uproar in Monterey County over aerial spraying of a synthetic pheromone that disrupts mating cycles, agriculture decided to use twist-ties containing the same pheromone when the moth turned up in Sonoma County. The twist-ties, also known as pheromone ropes, were to be placed on such things as tree branches and utility poles where they might attract apple moths.

That caused its own uproar. Despite acceptance by organic farmers and a lack of scientific evidence, critics claimed the twist-ties posed a risk to humans. The result was to delay ? and ultimately block ? the twist-tie program in Sonoma County, though it is being used elsewhere in California.

The new plan is to release millions of sterile moths, again trying to disrupt mating cycles.

Call them aerial twist-ties.

Federal officials hope to test the program in the Carneros region beginning this summer, with a goal of expanding it to other parts of the state.

Twist-ties were a missed opportunity to quickly eradicate the light brown apple moth. Like twist-ties, sterile moths fall into the category of least environmentally intrusive methods. They should be a welcome tool, not a source of further controversy.