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Medfly Spraying Extended : Officials Go Back on Cutoff Date

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Agriculture officials today retreated from a self-imposed May 9 deadline to wrap up most malathion spraying for the Mediterranean fruit fly over Southern California, admitting they had been overly optimistic in their projections of victory against the pest.

The officials said the reversal was prompted by a flurry of newly discovered outbreaks within the region and uncertainties about supplies of sterile Medflies, with which they had intended to replace pesticide spraying as their chief weapon in a 9-month-old campaign.

The announcement was made a morning press conference in El Monte, where scientists who advise the state’s eradication effort had been convened this week to assess the feasibility of the tactical switch to so-called “steriles.”

Details were scarce. Officials said they will release a specific spray schedule next week.

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The only specific sectors that officials said today will face continued spraying were Garden Grove in Orange County, Woodcrest in Riverside County and the city of San Bernardino.

Officials made clear, however, that for a broad swath of the region the malathion helicopters will make at least one or two more of their noisy nighttime passes--and at a pace more frequent that the bimonthly pattern followed through most of the infestation.

Spraying over some pockets of infestation actually will be escalated, to a pace of once a week for at least several weeks.

Moreover, any new infestations discovered through June will be attacked with a vigorous campaign of weekly spraying, a shift from the intended strategy of spraying one or two times and then releasing sterile flies.

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State Agriculture Director Henry J. Voss has already approved the decision to keep spraying, officials said.

It was Voss who last March announced the May 9 deadline to halt spraying over all pockets of infestation known at that time.

The announcement was seen in part as political, coming amid increasingly vocal objections by residents and local dignitaries about the mass pesticide program. Abandoning the deadline also seems certain to carry political ramifications.

Roy Cunningham, a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist who chairs the science panel, said that despite the grim developments, he believes the pest can still be eradicated.

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“We have not lost the war and we are not retreating,” Cunningham said. “Any war takes time, and we’re not in an easy campaign.”

Cunningham and other scientists expect numerous new outbreaks this summer, when the weather warms and fly activity increases. If this occurs, he said, aerial spraying could be needed in the region “through the end of the calendar year and possibly into next spring.”

The infestation, which began in July near Dodger Stadium, already has also grown far more than expected. Since Voss announced the deadline in March, about 150 more square miles have been declared infested.

Contributing to the scrapping of the May 9 deadline is a shortage of sterile flies from three breeding facilities in Hawaii.

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The most serious problems have occurred at a new breeding facility that has the capacity to produce 500 million sterile flies a week, but so far has been lumbering along at about 40 million.


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