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01.30.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs


SPLAT, confetti, goop, wasps—the state's new weapons against the apple moth sound like a joke, but they're not.

What Would Larry, Moe and Curly Do?

Last week the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced it was changing its tactics against the light brown apple moth. Unfortunately, the plans read more like a comedic farce in the spirit of Spies Like Us than a serious plan to repel invasion. And given the outcry after the first aerial spraying of pheromone last November, it looks like the generals at CDFA haven't learned anything about how the civilian population feels about this war.

First, let's inspect the ground forces. While the enemy is busy causing invisible and theoretical crop damage, CDFA personnel will dart around on the ground affixing pheromone-drenched twist ties to trees and bushes.

Then it's time to roll in the heavy artillery. Specialists, most likely outfitted in protective suits, will bombard telephone polls and trees in moth territory with a goopy mix of pheromone and pesticide (the kind used in flea medicine for pets) at a level eight feet off the ground.

Of course, no campaign of genocide would be complete without a biological weapon or two, so the CDFA will be spraying the bacteria BT and Spinoza into known terrorist training camps—what look like simple agricultural fields to you and me.

Now, CDFA officials are well aware that not all insects are fanatic extremists bent on turning all of California into an apple moth caliphate. There are moderate insect forces that can be recruited to aid in the effort. A tribe of predatory wasps called trichogramma will be brought in as allies. These are stingerless wasps—harmless to humans—but they're deadly to light brown apple moths. Ragged but determined, they'll inject their own eggs inside the moth egg sacs; when the moth larvae hatch, they'll dine on the apple moth eggs, killing the enemy before it even hatches.

Wait a minute—this just in—the moths are potentially dangerous to many lepidopterids, including the monarch butterfly. But no worries! The monarch doesn't lay its eggs here. That's one crisis averted by luck. ... Right?

All four of these ground techniques are essentially being deployed to buy time until the CDFA can perfect its real weapon against the moth: the pheromone spray. The agency is searching for a formula that will last longer than 30 days, thereby reducing the number of aerial treatments (and, nūz has to think, opportunities for opponents of spraying to go berserk). The first aerial spraying will most likely be in late spring or summer, rather than early spring as was originally planned.

Right now researchers in New Zealand are testing three new possible vehicles for aerial application of pheromone by CDFA's crack air forces.

First up on the drawing board is a reformulated version of Checkmate LBAM, which will essentially be the same product used in November, except that it will persist in the environment for 90 days instead of 30.

The second option being considered gets filed under "potentially messy." Specialized Pheromone and Lure Application Technology (SPLAT—yes, "SPLAT"), is a claylike material that would be dipped in the pheromone and then shot out of planes. ISCA Technologies, the Riverside-based manufacturer, claims one treatment can last for eight months. It also claims, more ominously, that the product will "not wash off vegetation," which makes nūz wonder how it will do with convertibles—not to mention chard. We couldn't make this stuff up.

CDFA and USDA press officials have not confirmed the third product being tested. But sources briefed by the CDFA described it as a small (quarter-inch-long) piece of biodegradable plastic, much like the material in dissolving sutures, that would be dipped in the pheromone and then "applied" in a storm of anti-mothist confetti. It is as yet unclear how the sticky pieces would be cleaned off of playground equipment, cars, houses, heads of hair and other exposed areas.

Whichever option is chosen is sure to generate even more controversy than this issue has already seen—not least because the map of areas to be treated has expanded significantly. It now includes seven new counties, including Alameda and San Francisco. nūz says: Get ready for the fireworks. This is going to get interesting.

These Are the Big Guns? So the CDFA thought Santa Cruz was tough? Wait until Berkeley and San Francisco find out about the goop, the SPLAT, the wasps and the confetti. The CDFA is getting ready to take its light brown apple moth show to seven new counties, and it could use some public relations help.

But wait! It already has some! After waking up to the smell of some very strong coffee last autumn, beleaguered state bureaucrats decided to call in the cavalry. On Nov. 1, the transnational PR firm Porter Novelli began lending a hand to CDFA public affairs officials attempting to defend their aerial spraying program.

While the CDFA will continue to be the "face" of the operation, Porter Novelli employees will help out in the background by gathering information, helping to prepare for town hall meetings and engaging in other thankless tasks associated with the state's controversial eradication plan.

For CDFA public affairs supervisor Steve Lyle, it was some much welcome backup.

"There are lots of communities to stay in touch with, and a lot of people to engage," notes Lyle. "So we recognized the complex nature of this program required us to bring in additional resources."

The USDA will be footing the bill of $497,500, which should be enough to pay for the PR services through July 2008, when the contract expires.

So, pardon nūz, but does anyone else wonder whether the feds are getting their money's worth? From here it looks like a public relations shit storm is about to hit the CDFA, and it ain't water soluble. Goop? SPLAT? Wasps? Confetti? Was this the best Porter Novelli could do? Or are the advisees just not listening to the advisers?

These are no small fry, PR-wise. According to news sources, Porter Novelli was founded in 1972 by ad men working to get President Nixon re-elected. If these miracle workers can't persuade the tone-deaf paper-pushers at CDFA that a more nuanced approach is called for, who can?

Sandhill Shindig

Dr. Jodi McGraw has spent innumerable hours observing the critters and plants that call the Santa Cruz Sandhills home. On the evening of Jan. 31, she will share her love and knowledge of these little-known species in an effort to prevent further encroachment of their unique habitat.

The Santa Cruz Sandhills are scattered between Boulder Creek, Scotts Valley and Bonny Doon, and many of the species that live in the sands have never been seen anywhere else on the globe. A species of the humble kangaroo rat, the excitable Zayante winged grasshopper and a stoic local wildflower are among the species that have called this ecological niche of Santa Cruz County home for centuries.

The fate of these rare natural treasures over the next decades is not as certain. McGraw warns that the habitat has been facing degradation from mining operations and residential development for at least 60 years.

"Habitat loss is obviously bad if you're a species that requires a certain habitat and it's disappearing," says McGraw, who works as an independent consultant in biological and ecological matters. "The fragmentation [of the habitat] is an additional layer of threat on top of that. The Sandhills were always kind of islands, but now the islands are getting smaller."

With this in mind, McGraw will encourage audience members to donate to the Santa Cruz Land Trust, a conservancy organization attempting to pony up the $5.5 million needed to buy 189 acres of the unique habitat located northeast of Scotts Valley. Once in the hands of the Land Trust, the whole area will be off-limits—unless you happen to be a Mt. Hermon June beetle.

So far the Land Trust is only $125,000 away from reaching its $5.5 million fundraising goal. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation donated $2.3 million, the Packard Foundation donated $400,000 and local community members have donated over $1 million so far.

Additionally, the Land Trust is waiting for the Wildlife Conservancy Fund to decide if it will donate $2 million. That decision is expected in early February.

Meanwhile, McGraw is hopeful future generations will have a chance to catch the wild antics of the Ben Lomond spineflower and other irreplaceable species dwelling in the sandy hills at the heart of our county.

"By the time people started realizing these were unique species, we had already begun to mine and develop in the area," says McGraw.

DR. JODI MCGRAW will give a one-hour slide-show presentation on the Santa Cruz Sandhills on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 7pm at the Scotts Valley Community Center, 361 Kings Village Road, Scotts Valley. Event is free.

Copyright: So 1996

Armed SWAT teams kicking in doors, the criminalization of millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens and underground networks trading in illicit materials have come to characterize this war. Nope, not the war on drugs—the war for information. On Monday, Feb. 4, Richard Stallman, founder of the radical Free Software Foundation, will present dispatches from the front lines of this conflict.

In his presentation, Stallman will argue that the spread of Internet technology has begun to undermine the centralized information dispersal networks that arose with the invention of the printing press. (Um, yes, we in the newspaper business noticed something was going on over there ...) As the Internet begins to replace paper-based information networks, like this-here tabloid newspaper in your hands, the means of controlling information—namely, copyright law—will have to be thrown out the window, in Stallman's view. He'll offer ideas on how this 19th-century concept, which he considers outmoded and overly centralized, can be replaced by a 21st-century, community-based approach to managing information. To quote Donald Fagen, What a beautiful world it could be.

RICHARD STALLMAN will be speaking on Monday, Feb. 4, at 6:30pm in Room 450 at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Admission is free but RSVP to rms.cabrillo@gmail.com is required.

Labor Rites

Is there any possible way to reverse the damage globalization has done to the labor movement? Maybe—if the labor movement itself is globalized. That's the message of and the task before participants this weekend at a UCSC Center for Labor Studies conference titled Imagining International Solidarity: Models for U.S. Labor Solidarity with Workers in Latin America and China.

"We're particularly interested in building democratic forms of solidarity in which regular working people's voices are heard," says conference organizer and Labor Center co-founder Dana Frank.

Panelists include academics from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Hong Kong and the United States. The event takes place Saturday, Feb. 2, 9am-5pm at Oakes College, Room 105, UCSC. Admission is free.

Endorsements

This Tuesday, Feb. 5, is the first national primary in recent history in which Californians' votes will actually matter. Metro Santa Cruz reminds everyone to go see the nice ladies and gentlemen at the neighborhood polling places and get one of those little stickers that says "I voted." To do that, you need to cast your votes for local and state measures and for the presidential candidate. Herewith, our endorsements, in handy clippable form.

Proposition 91 Transportation Funding—Metro Santa Cruz recommends: NO

We're flip-flopping on this proposition, which would prevent lawmakers from ever dipping into the transportation fund again when times are tight and the general fund is low. Another measure has already taken care of this issue, and besides, we shouldn't be micromanaging lawmakers in this way. The real issue here is state revenue sources. Let's hope this is the year lawmakers address that matter and meanwhile trust that the current fix will work.

Proposition 92 Community Colleges Funding—Metro Santa Cruz recommends: YES

This measure would separate community colleges funding from the K-12 kitty and reduce per-unit fees. It would not diminish the amount of money spent each year on K-12 education, but it would require the state to come up with at least $300 million a year in extra funds for the community colleges. That's hard to countenance this year, but we think community colleges are worth it.

Proposition 93 Term Limits—Metro Santa Cruz recommends: NO

The Monterey Bay area has historically sent very good people to Sacramento, and it's natural to want to keep them there. This measure would do that by increasing the amount of time a lawmaker can spend in either house to 12 years, up from six years for the Assembly and eight years for the Senate. Unfortunately, the Democratic party leaders' shenanigans make this measure look like nothing more than a power grab. Let's hold out for a better fix, presented with more integrity.

Propositions 94-97 Tribal Gaming Compacts—Metro Santa Cruz recommends: NO

These four measures would give four select California tribes a boatload of new slot machines and gleaming pots of cash; in exchange they would pour extra revenue into state coffers. Trouble is, the accounting and oversight provisions for the state are very poor. Moreover, these tribes would get to circumvent environmental and labor standards. These are very sweet deals for the tribes and poor deals for the state; we give them a thumbs-down.

Measure G Loma Prieta Schools—Metro Santa Cruz recommends: YES

This measure allows administrators to continue spending the revenue raised in a 1996 bond.

Measure O $18.8 million for San Lorenzo Valley schools Metro Santa Cruz recommends: YES

Some San Lorenzo Valley residents are unhappy to have this bond added to the $18.5 million bond approved via Measure S in 2000. But fast growth, overcrowding and a fire that burned down a library at the high school in 2006 make it, unfortunately, a necessity.

Measure P Santa Cruz City Elementary Schools—Metro Santa Cruz recommends: YES

No one has mounted any opposition to this measure, which would continue a $105-per-year parcel tax until 2017 to continue the work of keeping K-5 classes small.

Democratic Presidential Primary Metro Santa Cruz recommends: BARACK OBAMA

Because when he says he's the candidate for change, we believe him.


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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