California and federal pest control officials have called off plans to aerially spray a moth pheromone over the San Francisco bay area this summer to control the light brown apple moth.

Instead, they say they plan to use an integrated approach that involves releasing millions of sterilized male apple moths over the area and applying pheromone-laced twist ties to neighborhood trees.

State agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura says he was not buckling to mounting public pressure to call off the aerial pheromone applications. Rather new technology permits them to efficiently raise and sterilize the moths in a laboratory setting, he says.

“Since we discovered the light brown apple moth in California in early 2007, we have invested in the development of alternatives that would improve our eradication efforts,” Kawamura said in a press release. “That work is bearing fruit earlier than expected. We are fast-tracking an approach known as the sterile insect technique, in which large quantities of sterilized, infertile insects are released so that the wild population cannot reproduce.”

A pilot program that tested rearing the apple moths at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s facility in Albany, Calif., proved successful this spring. Sterile apple moth releases could begin in 2009.

Similar techniques have been used to rear sterile pink bollworm moths and Mediterranean fruit flies.

The state and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to apply the synthetic moth pheromone Checkmate OLR-F aerially over populated areas drew mounting criticism from residents who questioned its safety. Many claimed they had respiratory and other health problems after the state treated the area last summer. They were close to taking legal action to require the state to conduct an environmental impact review.

The light brown apple moth was confirmed in California in February 2007 after a Berkeley home owner trapped one in a black light trap. As of June 13, 28,603 have been trapped in 15 counties.

A native of Australia, the light brown apple moth also is found in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Caledonia. It has a host range of more than 1,000 plant species, including grapes, citrus and stone fruit.

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