Visalia residents concerned with Tulare County spraying controversial pesticide to control grape pest known as glassy-winged sharpshooter

Porterville treatment includes biological control with parasitic wasp while Visalia treatment includes direct application to the soil

By Kaitlin Washburn @kwashy12

VISALIA – Tulare County has started spraying pesticides in residential areas in Visalia and Lindsay to combat glassy-winged sharpshooters, a non-native pest that carries a deadly grapevine disease.

The sharpshooter also attacks residential and urban landscaping. The Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office will be treating residential areas and urban landscapes within 200 meters of detection. Residents can opt out of the spray.

The pesticide, an insecticide with imidacloprid as the main ingredient, will be applied through a “drench” method, which means the pesticide is directly applied to the soil instead of the plant.

While most are in agreement that the pest needs to be controlled, many residents are concerned about the pesticide and the application method. They also believe the chemical to be threat to bees and groundwater, both vulnerable parts of the Central Valley’s ecosystem.

The sharpshooter carries Pierce’s Disease, which has been in California for over 100 years. However, this particular species of sharpshooter is not native to the state, and because it moves faster and flies greater distances into vineyards than native sharpshooters, according to a report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Daniel Garcia, a Visalia resident, said the insecticide remains in soil for hundreds of days. The residual chemical from the pesticide in the soil can be incredibly toxic for mammals, Garcia said.

Garcia said the county should do a better job alerting the public about these sprays and providing adequate information on the chemical. Residents in the spray area were notified via a letter from the county, and Garcia said a letter isn’t enough to ensure people are informed.

“It’s not good what’s going on, there needs to be more oversight and public awareness,” Garcia said. “Oversight isn’t strict enough because there isn’t enough public awareness.”

The issue came up last Monday during a Visalia City Council meeting. Tulare County Ag Commissioner Tom Tucker was asked about the commission’s decision to use spray rather than parasitic wasps, which is what Porterville is using to control the pest.

Tucker said Porterville is surrounded by citrus fields, which acts as a natural barrier for any nearby vineyards. When the pests leave the city, Tucker said they are thwarted thanks to the citrus growers who are treating for a number of pests, including sharpshooters.

Visalia doesn’t have a citrus boundary, Tucker said, but it does have grapes.

“We cannot allow it to go beyond the city boundaries, even though it already is,” Tucker said. “So it’s important to continuously work around this city.”

Tucker said this pesticide program has been going on for awhile, and 98 percent of residents in Visalia have allowed the county to spray on their properties, though some have decided to opt out.

Visalia resident Leticia Garcia questioned the county’s use of the drench method.

“This pesticide application for the glassy winged sharpshooter is typically not recommended around homes and urban landscapes,” Garcia said. “Which is exactly the areas they have designated. I am concerned with the drench going into the groundwater and affecting local beehives.”

Garcia said a local beekeeper was not notified that her farm is in the spray area, which is deadly for her bees.

“A spray was done last fall and she literally lost her entire hive,” Garcia said.

Paula Bayard, a Visalia resident, said residents who are complying with the spray aren’t well informed by the county.

“The literature [about the pesticide] didn’t give a balanced perspective and was from the manufacturer of the pesticide,” Bayard said. “It would be nice to the people, to give them enough opportunity to react and educate our neighbors from the issues.”

Kaitlin Washburn is a Report for America corps member covering agriculture for The Sun-Gazette.

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