By Matthew Sommer

The federal government has declared that a flying infestation of light brown apple moths means trouble in Santa Cruz County. Last week, the federal government placed quarantines on California counties infested with the moths, and Santa Cruz County was on the top of the list.

The moth, native to Australia and New Zealand, is light to reddish brown in color and has an eight-millimeter wingspan. The moth feeds on the leaves of nearly every type of plant and has been spotted throughout the South Bay Area. Eighty percent of the infestation is in Santa Cruz County.

Ken Corbishley, the Santa Cruz County deputy agricultural commissioner, said the federal government quarantined each county where moths were found, including Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz, and placed restrictions on items moving from state to state. Every farm and plant distributor in quarantined counties is checked for the infestation before shipping is allowed.	

The infestation caused many people in the flower industry to worry about a state-by-state quarantine before Mother’s Day, since Florida threatened to reject flowers from the state of California. The federal government intervened, placing quarantines on only the eight infected counties.

Rich Matteis, who works with the California State Floral Association and the California Cut Flower Commission, said it is fortunate the federal government quarantined Santa Cruz. Matteis said California is the top flower-producing state, and the quarantine allowed for most of the state to be immediately cleared for shipments.

“We had some touch-and-go there at first,” Matteis said.

Corbishley said the Agricultural Department worked quickly to check and clear local businesses. He said there was a special focus on clearing flower exporters before Mother’s Day.

“We are hitting a lot of locations,” Corbishley said. “Local flower companies that ship statewide could have been affected.”

The moth infestation could cause a large economic impact, with some experts speculating it will cost California tens of millions of dollars. However, Corbishley said growers are now mainly affected not by the moths but by the quarantine, which requires growers to buy expensive pesticides in order to have their crops cleared of moths.

“We are not seeing plants dying,” Corbishley said. “We may not have reached that level of saturation.”

The Department of Agriculture is now involved in a statewide operation that aims to trap the light-brown apple moths. Corbishley explained the traps used are triangular boxes placed on trees. Inside the traps are sticky boards coated with a pheromone the female moths give off, which attracts the male moth.

“Essentially, when the moth is detected in a trap, there is a 1.5 mile circle drawn around that find,” Corbishley said.

Carolyn O’Donnell, issues and food safety manager of the Strawberry Commission in Santa Cruz, said she isn’t worried about the moths causing crop damage. The strawberry inspections are planned for this week, also alleviating the commission’s worries.

“Strawberries in general are at a low risk for apple moths,” O’Donnell said. “The control measures are not going to affect strawberries.”