Enviros squash plan to kill crickets

  • Female Mormon cricket

    Michael Thompson, USDA ARS
  Where are those ravenous seagulls when you need them? Idaho farmers are bracing for an invasion of Mormon crickets this summer, but they are unlikely to be as fortunate as early Utah settlers, whose besieged crops were miraculously rescued by flocks of birds. Instead, the federal government planned to spray pesticides over huge tracts of public land.

A recent environmental assessment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cleared the way for spraying on "virtually all areas which might host outbreaks." That comes to nearly 20 million acres in southern Idaho, including wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and other sensitive ecosystems.

Environmentalists immediately sued to stop the spraying of carbaryl, malathion and diflubenzuron. They argued the chemicals would damage water quality and harm wildlife, including endangered species. In response to the public outcry, the USDA issued an addendum to the assessment in May, which says the agency will not spray pesticides this summer. Instead, land managers will use carbaryl bait — toxic cricket food — that is less likely to drift in the wind and contaminate waterways. The addendum also prohibits pesticide application in wilderness and wilderness study areas.

Scott Hoffman Black, the executive director of the Xerces Society, an international nonprofit dedicated to invertebrate protection, is pleased with the changes, but still has some concerns about the USDA’s policies. "It’s misguided to even try to control these insects (on public lands) where they are a natural component of the ecosystem."

To read the environmental assessment and the new addendum, visit www.agri.state.id.us/plants/GHTOC.htm.
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