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A Measured Response to Medfly Outbreak : Despite Pest’s Threat There Is a Proper Way to Combat It

The San Fernando Valley is experiencing its first Medfly infestation since the outbreak of 1989-1990. At that time, officials quarantined 1,300 miles of Los Angeles County and spent more than $60 million on aerial malathion spraying throughout Southern California. That prompted angry protests and hundreds of legal claims for health and property damage. Now, state and federal officials say that other weapons will be used first, and that comes as welcome news.

In fact, the response to date seems appropriately restrained and measured. It has also been accompanied by more public notice to citizens and more citizen involvement than before.

Several of the crop-destroying flies were originally found this summer in Granada Hills. Action to eradicate the hungry little pests began with the quarantine of a 76-square mile area radiating out from Granada Hills and affecting Sylmar, San Fernando, Pacoima, Reseda, and Northridge. It stretched from Vanowen Street north to the Los Angeles city limits, and from Winnetka Avenue east to the Foothill Freeway.

Steps have now been taken to expand the original quarantine area by another 15 square miles, following the discovery of more flies near the intersection of Branford Street and Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

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The site of that original discovery has been treated with ground spraying of malathion on fruit trees and other plants within a radius of 200 meters. The only aerial release so far has been of millions of sterile Medflies that, hopefully, will prevent the insects from reproducing.

At that second, smaller site, depicted here, state and federal officials have also taken a measured tack, ordering the ground spraying of malathion bait, again in a 200-meter radius of the latest discovery.

Plans are also afoot to again use Van Nuys Airport as a staging area. But this time, thankfully, the idea is simply to use property there as a headquarters and to store sterile Medflies prior to their release. In July, 1990, it was the site of helicopter liftoffs on aerial malathion spraying runs, prompting City Councilman Joel Wachs to spearhead a ban on the use of city airports to spray malathion. A Van Nuys Airport citizens advisory panel has offered its unanimous support for using airport property for a Medfly abatement office.

Now, it is very important to prevent the spreading of what is still a fairly focused and contained infestation. People shouldn’t ship home grown produce out of the area unless it has been canned, cooked or frozen. Fruits and vegetables that are to be discarded ought to be doubled-bagged before they are thrown into the trash. This also means keeping the kids informed that picking fruit inside the quarantine area and sharing it with buddies is a definite no-no. Unprocessed produce must remain within the quarantine area because the insects tend to be lousy fliers and travel mainly by latching onto fruits and vegetables. These restrictions may be in effect for up to a year.

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The Medfly is a major threat to California’s $18-billion agriculture industry. The state’s economy is in bad enough shape without jeopardizing it further with something as seemingly minor as a small piece of back-yard fruit.


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