Agricultural officials opened a second front Wednesday in the fight against two invasive moth species, one known for the controversy surrounding it, the other a newcomer that already is creating anxiety for its presence in a score of Napa Valley vineyards.
With the western sun sinking low, a federal scientist Wednesday released 3,000 sterile male and female light brown apple moths into a pinot noir vineyard on the Napa-Sonoma border.
The release at one of Domaine Chandon?s vineyards is part of a test to see how the irradiated moths will disperse and how long they survive. If the results are promising, the sterile moths eventually could be used in huge releases in order to keep fertile moths of both sexes from successfully mating.
The fertile males would be ?wasting their time with with a sterile female,? explained Gregory Simmons, an entomologist who coordinates the sterile apple moth program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The test at Domaine Chandon began as officials disclosed the prevalence in the Napa Valley of another exotic pest, the European grapevine moth.
That moth, which has damaged grapes on at least three continents, was first discovered in late September and since has been found on 22 different properties between St. Helena and Napa.
In response, agricultural officials and industry leaders are urging Napa growers to remove any residual fruit and disc it into the ground in order to deprive the pest a sanctuary over the winter.
?This is a pest that can do tremendous damage to the grape crop, so it?s a real threat to our sustainability,? said Bruce Phillips, president of Napa Valley Grapegrowers, which represents more than 500 growers and related businesses.
The find is the first known infestation of the European grapevine moth in the United States. But the pest, Lobesia botrana, has damaged fruit in Europe, the Mediterranean, Russia, Japan, the Mideast, the Near East and Africa.
State and local inspectors placed special traps this fall in Sonoma County near the Napa border, but found no grapevine moths here, said Cathy Neville, Sonoma County agricultural commissioner.
The apple moth, however, triggered a state and federal campaign to prevent it from spreading this fall. About a fifth of Sonoma County?s vineyards were placed under quarantine this season for the apple moth, as well as almost 70 percent of Napa?s vineyards. Growers under quarantine still can move their crops to harvest, but they must show that they aren?t spreading the pest outside the quarantine areas.
Controversy has surrounded the apple moth ever since the state in 2007 conducted aerial spraying over Monterey and Santa Cruz counties with a chemical designed to disrupt the moths from mating. The moth since has been found in 18 counties.
Critics of the government?s efforts insist the apple moth is a minor pest and doesn?t require the $700,000 that the federal government already has spent to develop the sterile moth program, let alone the $75 million in federal funds set aside to fight the pest.
?It?s a waste of taxpayer money,? Yannick Phillips, a Sonoma activist, said of Wednesday?s sterile moth release.
But Josh Rubin, a viticulturist with Yountville-based Domaine Chandon, said the winery welcomed the release of sterile moths in its vineyard. It hopes the test will help develop a means to prevent the moth from becoming established in Wine Country.