A swarm of “biblical” insects spurs Oregon’s push to fight pests

Arlington, Oregon (AP) — Jordan Murray and April Armott, driving on windy canyon roads in northern Oregon pastures, slaughter Mormon cricket, a giant insect that can destroy crops. looking for.

“There is one there,” says Aamodt.

Finding them is not difficult. Insects that can grow larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters) suck up asphalt.

Mormon cricket is not new to Oregon. Native to western North America, their name dates back to the 1800s, which ruined the fields of Mormon pioneers in Utah. However, in the midst of drought and warming, outbreaks throughout the west, which are the preferred conditions for insects, are exacerbating.

Last year, the Oregon Legislature evaluated the issue and allocated $ 5 million to set up a Mormon cricket and grasshopper “suppression” program. An additional $ 1.2 million for the program was approved earlier this month.

This is part of greater efforts by state and federal authorities in the western United States to deal with the locust and mormon cricket explosions that struck Nevada from Montana. However, some environmental groups oppose programs that rely on aerial spraying of pesticides on vast lands.

Marie, an Oregon State University extension worker, and Armott, who lives in the small town of Arlington on the Columbia River, are both involved in supporting and researching Mormon cricket in the region.

In 2017, Arlington saw the largest outbreak of Mormon cricket since the 1940s. The roads were “greasy”, crushing the internal organs of giant insects and damaging nearby wheat crops.

Launcher Skyclebs stated that the outbreak was “true biblical.”

“On the highway, kill them and the rest will come,” he explained. Mormon crickets are cannibalistic and, if you’re not tired of protein, eat each other’s treats, whether dead or alive.

Insects, which are shield-lined grasshoppers, rather than true crickets, are flightless birds. But according to Marie, they can travel at least a quarter mile a day.

Aamodt has fought the 2017 outbreak with what it has at hand.

“I took out the lawnmowers, mowed them, and started killing them,” she said. “I took a straight hoe and stabbed them.”

Aamodt organized volunteers to tackle the epidemic and earned the nickname “Queen of Cricket.”

In another epidemic last year, local officials “scrambled,” Marie said.

“We had all those high value crops and irrigation circles,” he explained. “We had to do what we could to prevent them from entering it.”

In 2021 alone, Oregon’s agricultural authorities estimate that 10 million acres of rangeland in 18 counties were damaged by grasshoppers and mormon crickets.

Under the new Oregon Initiative, private landowners such as farmers and ranchers can request the Oregon Ministry of Agriculture (ODA) to investigate their land. If ODA finds more than 3 Mormon crickets or 8 grasshoppers per square yard, chemical treatment is recommended. In some areas near Arlington, surveyed in May shortly after the hatch, there were 201 Mormon crickets per square yard.

State officials recommend aerial spraying of diflubenzuron. Insecticides inhibit growth and prevent nymphs from becoming adults. Landlords can reimburse up to 75% of the cost.

Diana Fillmore is a rancher participating in a new cost-sharing initiative. She says in her property, “The ground is just crawling on grasshoppers.”

ODA recommended treating 988 acres of ranch in Arock, southeastern Oregon. This is actually about 500 acres of her land, as the program’s protocol requires that pesticides be applied to only half of the proposed area, alternating between swaths and skipping the next swath. Means to be sprayed on.

Fillmore decided to act in memory of last year’s damage.

“It was terrible,” Fillmore said. “The grasshopper has completely wiped out some of our fields.” She was forced to spend $ 45,000 on hay, which normally does not need to be purchased.

Todd Adams, an entomologist and ODA’s Eastern Oregon Field Office and Grasshopper Program Coordinator, said that as of mid-June, ODA received 122 research requests and treated 31 for approximately 40,000 acres (16,187 hectares). He said he sent a recommendation.

Landlords need to act quickly if they decide to spray diflubenzuron, as it is only effective against nymphs.

“It’s too late when they grow up,” Adams said.

Oregon’s new program is aimed at private landowners. However, the federal government owns more than half of Oregon’s total land, and the USDA has its own program for outbreaks on public land in the west.

The US government’s grasshopper control program dates back to the 1930s, and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has sprayed millions of acres of pesticides to control outbreaks since the 1980s.

In 2021, acres sprayed 807,000 acres (326,581 hectares) of grazing land in seven western states, said William Wesera, director of national policy at APHIS. To Jake Bodart, Director of State Plant Health in Oregon.

In a 2019 risk assessment, APHIS recognized that the main pesticide used, diflubenzuron, was “a pesticide with limited use due to its toxicity to aquatic invertebrates,” but the risk was low. Said.

APHIS states that it will follow ways to reduce concerns. This tells the pesticide sprayer to skip the band and spray the pesticide at a lower rate than indicated on the label.

However, environmental groups are against this program. Last month, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a proceeding with APHIS in the US District Court in Portland. In their filings, they accuse APHIS of harming the pasture ecosystem and not fully informing the public about the area of ​​treatment.

They also claim that government agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not assessing all alternatives to pesticides or analyzing the cumulative effects of the program.

Federal authorities refused to comment on the proceeding because it was pending in court.

Environmentalists say that the reduction of grasshoppers reduces the food sources of other wildlife that prey on grasshoppers.

Sharon Selvaggio, a pesticide program specialist at the Xerces Society, said:

Selvaggio added that the spray could be “toxic to a wide variety of insects” in addition to grasshoppers and mormon crickets, and expressed particular concern to pollen maters such as bees.

The two environmental groups want institutions to take a more integrated approach to pest management by exploring methods such as rotary grazing.

Andrew Missel, a staff lawyer at Advocates for the West, a non-profit law firm that filed the proceedings, said: “The point is really to reform,” he added.

In Arlington, the “Queen of Cricket” Armott said residents experimented with pesticide alternatives. In 2017, some trees were covered with duct tape to catch insects. The following year, local officials grazed the hillside with a goat.

For now, those fighting future epidemics are hoping that the new state program will provide the coveted support.

“Remember, these are the people who are taking the time out of their lives to do this,” said Marie, an OSU extension agent. “Volunteers made a big difference.”


Rush is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for the United States Is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in the local newsroom to report on hidden issues.

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