Mira Monte, Meiners Oaks affected
By Daryl Kelley
Hundreds of property owners in Mira Monte and Meiners Oaks have been notified that government crews will soon begin spraying oak and other hardwood trees and plants with an organic pesticide to destroy a “breeding population” of tree-killing gypsy moths.
Officials began hand-delivering notices of the eradication plan to 600 residences and businesses on Friday. A public information meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening at Nordhoff High School.
“Gypsy moth caterpillars feed on hundreds of kinds of plants and are capable of defoliating trees at an alarming rate,” said a notice distributed by the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the county agricultural commissioner’s office. “A single gypsy moth caterpillar can eat up to 1 square foot of leaves per day.”
Two clusters of up to 100 orange-colored moth eggs were found in Mira Monte last fall, following discovery last summer of seven adults moths in traps nearby, prompting a state quarantine of the area.
“Urgent treatment is now necessary to protect California from the negative economic and environmental impacts the establishment of this pest would cause throughout California,” the notice said.
Steve Lyle, a state spokesman, said spraying of the organic compound Btk is set to begin March 9 and is timed to destroy moth larvae before they hatch. Residents will be notified each time before spraying.
“We want to treat right now so we can prevent this pest from spreading,” he said.
Gypsy moths, which have ravaged forests in the northeastern United States And around the Great Lakes, have not been found anywhere else in California in recent years.
The pesticide, which would be applied from the ground, would cover trees and plants within a 400-meter radius of two sites where the egg clusters were found. It would also cover areas where adult gypsy moths have been found in traps.
A Department of Food and Agriculture notice circulated Friday says of the pest-killing spray:
“This material is a naturally occurring biological insecticide that is registered in California and is commonly used on organic fruits and vegetables. The application is designed to kill the larval stage … thereby eliminating the reproduction of the (gypsy moth) population.”
The eradication area, which is smaller than the area of quarantine, is roughly bounded by West Lomita Avenue on the north and includes areas on both sides of Rice Road and La Luna Avenue. The southern boundary is a few hundred yards north of Baldwin Road.
“It’s typical that the quarantine area is much larger than the area of infestation as a safeguard to try to eliminate the risk of spreading,” Lyle said.
Gypsy moths were discovered in the same area in 2007 and two were eradicated without harm in Meiners Oaks in 2000.
About the latest infestation, a state flier says: “Visual surveys in the fall of 2008 revealed egg masses and larval cast skins on and near a property where a camping trailer had been parked after a trip that originated in the infested area of the northeastern U.S.”
Gypsy moths, which can devastate oaks and other trees such as evergreens, cottonwoods, willow and manzanita, are rarely found west of the Mississippi River.
But some apparently hitchhiked here last year.
“In the northeastern United States, where this pest arrived from Europe in the late 1800s, millions of these caterpillars emerge each spring and devour large swaths of forest and foliage,” said the state notice. “When trees are repeatedly defoliated, they are rendered more susceptible to other pests and diseases, possibly leading to tree death and an increased potential for fire and erosion.”
The Ojai Valley quarantine requires 35 businesses and thousands of residents in Mira Monte, Meiners Oaks and a western slice of Ojai to get a government inspection of anything stored outdoors last summer before it can be moved elsewhere.
That means that owners of boats, RVs, trailers, patio furniture, firewood or other wood products within the five-square-mile quarantine area would need a county permit before the property could be sold or moved.
The quarantine area is bounded generally by Baldwin and Villanova roads on the south, state Highway 33 on the east, Fairview and Meyer roads on the north, and a sparsely populated area near the Ventura River on the west.
The quarantine could last for two years, Lyle said. It could affect, for example, a boat owner wanting to take the craft to Lake Casitas for the day or an recreational vehicle owner who wants to take a trip out of the area.
Although the county agricultural commissioner’s office, which will do the inspections, is requesting voluntary cooperation, a violation of the quarantine would be a misdemeanor crime and subject to a fine under the state Food and Agricultural Code, officials said.
Affected businesses include a plant nursery, a landscaping company, a green-waste facility, a lumber yard, storage facilities and mobile home parks.
While retail complexes such as the Vons shopping center at Ojai’s “Y” intersection are within the eastern edge of the quarantine area, businesses there won’t be affected by the restrictions because they do not store goods outdoors.
Since the summer moth discoveries, the number of traps in a four-square-mile survey area around the catches has been increased from 14 to 144, Lyle said. The state usually maintains two traps per square mile in the Ojai Valley, he said.
In addition, there were 10 state inspectors assigned to the survey, he said.
Masses of eggs, appearing as buff-colored felt, are found on trees and on transportable items.
Any sighting should be reported to a state pest hot line at (800) 491-1899, officials said.