Sonoma environmentalists, growers agree to fight vineyard pest
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) – Environmentalists and grape growers have stopped sniping at each other and are joining to fight the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a vineyard pest threatening Northern California wine country.
The two sides came up with a compromise plan that allows property owners to apply organic remedies before being subject to forced spraying of synthetic pesticides by local agriculture officials. Sonoma County supervisors approved the compromise Tuesday.
The new approach amends a hotly contested plan, which had mandated forced spraying without the option of trying something else.
”It’s a triumph,” said Shepherd Bliss, an organic farmer in Sebastopol who strongly opposes forced spraying.
The agreement, which has the approval of state agriculture officials, follows months of negotiations by growers and environmentalists.
”I think it was realized by the environmental side that this was an insect that it wouldn’t be a good idea to allow to come into Sonoma County,” said John Westoby, Sonoma County agricultural commissioner. ”On the growers’ side, they sensed the fears of many of these people about the use of synthetic pesticides and looked at ways that maybe those fears could be ameliorated.”
The sharpshooter is a tiny bug that carries the bacteria causing Pierce’s disease, an incurable ailment that kills grape vines and other crops by interfering with their ability to absorb water and nutrients.
Last December, county officials approved a plan that included forced spraying of areas found to have sharpshooter eggs, despite the strong objections of environmentalists.
Under the amended plan approved Tuesday, property owners who oppose synthetic pesticides have a number of options for treatment including using organic pesticides or fighting the pest through physical measures such as removing the plant or picking off the bugs. Forced spraying is available as a last resort, Westoby said.
The compromise between growers and the no-spray forces started early this year when growers asked environmentalists to discuss a compromise.
”The question was, ‘Do you think we could work on issues and search for common ground and problem-solve rather than allow things to become polarized like they have been?’ and everybody said yes,” said Nick Frey, of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association.
”It started off being difficult,” said Kurt Erickson of the No Spray Action Network. ”It was touch-and-go. It was misunderstandings.”
But eventually, Erickson said, the two sides ”learned how to talk.”
Pierce’s disease has been found in Sonoma County for decades, caused by bacteria that flourish along waterways. So far, however, damage has been limited because the bacteria are carried by insects that don’t fly too far. The glassy-winged sharpshooter can carry the bacteria for a quarter of a mile, posing a much bigger threat.
The sharpshooter hasn’t infested Sonoma County yet, but it has wreaked havoc in Southern California. Pierce’s disease has caused $40 million in losses in Riverside County’s Temecula area in recent years.
For years, Sonoma vintners have taken a back seat to their better known neighbors in Napa County, but winemaking is an increasingly important business here and has grown to a $2 billion annual industry.
On the Net:
Sonoma County glassy winged sharpshooter site: http://www.bugspot.org
California Department of Food and Agriculture: http://plant.cdfa.ca.gov/gwss
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