Who brought in the invasive moth?
Much is being written about the invasion of California by the destructive European grape vine moth (EGVM), but nobody has affixed blame yet.
That is probably humane, since those touched or are about to be touched by the damage the pest can cause are livid about possible human implication in its importation. They feel that any known punishment is too good for the culprit who let the invader in.
As with many pests that have arrived from elsewhere to cause untold damage to California crops in recent years, it is reasonably safe to assume this one found its way by hitchhiking on or in somebody's luggage.
But in some agricultural circles the suspicion has been expressed that the grape vine moth received more than incidental help to get through customs. Some believe it might have been part of a tightly packed bundle of grape cuttings, wrapped up and stowed deep within the belongings of some traveler from some European point of departure.
Their reasoning that grape cuttings have been unofficially brought from Europe for decades, even a century or more, is unquestionable. They point out that a few cuttings wrapped in a plastic bag and packed deep in a traveler's luggage is almost sure to avoid inspectors.
Although the EGVM attacks a wide variety of the grape and tree fruit crops that proliferate in California, its detection in the Napa Valley heightens the suspicion that the person who packed it had an interest in the wine grape industry. The transporter might be a Napa Valley resident, one with ties to a European relative or visitor, or just somebody passing through.
The moth has definitely passed through. It has been detected in Merced, Fresno and Monterey counties as well as Napa and at least three neighboring counties, and in orchards and other settings not limited to grapes. It threatens to expand its territory further.
Besides control measures for the pest itself, quarantines have been established in areas surrounding the locations where it has been found. While restrictions are imposed to prevent susceptible crops from being shipped from areas that have been designated as hosts for the moth, they can result in severe economic hardship for producers of those crops.
For example, Harry Cline, editor of the popular Western Farm Press, wrote in a recent issue that growers and pest control experts agree that the moth can be controlled with the arsenal of pesticides available to them. But economic losses from not being allowed to ship grapes, tree fruits and vegetables from a moth-infested area are hard to recoup, maybe impossible.
Cline points out that additional expenditures accompany discovery of the moth. Vineyard equipment and trucks entering and leaving wineries must be washed, and usually disposable cull fruit will face restrictions. A federal stamp might be required on each shipping container exiting a quarantined area.
Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, told Cline that grapes and other produce shipped from a quarantined area might carry a stigma that can lower the price significantly that buyers and eventual consumers will pay.
In an editorial in the same issue, Cline suggests that anyone who smuggled the pest into California should be arrested and made liable for damages and costs. He believes the authorities can find the smuggler if they set their minds to it.
So his final recommendation to the importer is that he or she get out of Dodge before the wrath of the state's entire grower community comes down on him (or her). If the culprit can round up the moths and take them away, it might result in lighter sentencing when caught.
Contact Don Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org