Thursday, March 19, 2009
A sexy moth scent changed Elsa Dooling’s life.
The Carmel mother was among more than 600 Central Coast residents who reported health problems after the fall 2007 aerial spraying of pheromone products targeting the invasive light brown apple moth (aka the dreaded LBAM).
Dooling, then a computer consultant, joined the surge of grassroots activists who helped pressure the government into dropping its urban spray plans. The experience opened her eyes to both the ubiquity of pesticides and the power of the people: She became a community organizer with Pesticide Watch. “There was no going back,” she says.
These days, Dooling spends much of her time supporting citizen campaigns against practices potentially more sinister (and more common) than the moth spray, like highly toxic agricultural pesticides and genetically modified crops. But she’s frustrated that the LBAM activist base isn’t embracing those causes.
“Once the imminent threat was gone, a lot of people pulled back,” she says. “It’s been a struggle for me to give these people a way to continue to work not only on LBAM but on other issues.”
Paulina Borsook of Stop the Spray says the LBAM army is still on deck – but the focus remains on the state’s moth program. “I’ve been working on this issue hysterically, fanatically and humorously for a year and a half,” she says.
Haunted by images of low-flying planes releasing mysterious chemicals over their homes, residents within the LBAM-infested areas organized an arsenal of grassroots campaigns to halt the spraying, often with support from established environmental groups.
Their lawsuits, beginning with one filed in Monterey County by Helping Our Peninsula’s Environment, eventually derailed the government’s spray plans. Their political pressure also inspired the Legislature to pass two new bills requiring the state to do more legwork and ensure public hearings before deploying pesticides against invasive species.
Meanwhile, Pesticide Action Network North America and 16 other California-based groups are pressuring the feds to downgrade the LBAM’s status from a “high-risk” to “minor” pest.
HOPE Executive Director David Dilworth, who estimates the LBAM issue grew the ranks of his nonprofit by 10 to 15 percent, is focusing on other projects while the state prepares the environmental documents ordered in HOPE’s successful lawsuit.
During the lull, it remains to be seen whether the LBAM-specific groups will dissolve, stay focused on the moth, or move on to confront the bigger issues of government transparency and pesticide reform.
At least one group is evolving. People Against Chemical Trespass – a Santa Cruz campaign born out of the LBAM movement – is now backing a city ordinance banning the bulk application of pesticides. Dooling says she’s working on a similar effort on the Monterey Peninsula.
Others, however, remain stuck on the moth. Though the CDFA has scrapped its spray plans, it is still working to eradicate the LBAM, primarily with the release of sterile moths. Infestations are intensifying, says CDFA spokesman Jay Van Rein, and quarantines remain in place.
“Sweetie, the mission is not remotely accomplished,” Borsook says. “We are still committed to killing this program.”