Over 4,000 codling moths have been released into the abundant orchards of the Columbia Gorge by Oregon State University professor Christopher Adams once a week for the past three months.
The unattractive non-native insects are only half an inch long, but they cause havoc when they lay their larvae inside apples, pears, walnuts, or other crops.
They caused more than $500 million in damages to Washington apple farms, according to 2018 research.
Adams has unleashed the moths for precisely this reason.
He isn’t an agroterrorist, no. He has sterilized every moth he releases into the wild.
According to Adams, “This sterilized male and female fly around and mate with any wild (moths).” They are sterile, so you can’t have children.
Adams teaches tree fruit bugology as an assistant professor at Oregon State University’s Hood River campus.
One of many continuing research initiatives he’s doing, all falling under the broad rubric of an agricultural practice known as Integrated Pest Management, is his summer release of sterilized moths.
Orchardists in Hood River are “Far Ahead”
Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which focuses on a variety of strategies in addition to insecticides to control pest populations, is more of a strategy than a specific technology. These include altering the habitat, adding predators from nature, and playing with genetics.
When it comes to these kinds of interventions, orchardists and farmers in the Hood River region are “far ahead of most other locations,” according to Adams.
This summer’s release of sterilized moths was inspired by a long-running endeavor in British Columbia.
Since 1992, codling moths have been sterilized and released into the Okanogan Valley area by the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program. This resulted in a 94% decrease in the moth population, which in turn resulted in a 96% decrease in the number of pesticides used.
Adams claims that the Okanagan-Kootenay rearing facility is the only one in existence.
This summer, he made some tiny introductions to show that the Columbia Gorge region may benefit from a similar scheme.
Adams also plans to construct a Columbia Gorge rearing facility in the future, albeit it is still in the early stages. This facility would sterilize moths using X-rays rather than radioactive cobalt.
The B.C. project’s original objective was eradication, but according to Adams, that proved to be impossible.
With insects, eradication is a challenge, he claims. They do such a great job of surviving. It suffices if you have an apple tree in your backyard. You might be housing the last of the population.
God-Playing With Nature
The introduction of a tiny wasp called Trissolcus japonicas, also known as the “samurai wasp,” which lays its eggs within the brown marmorated stinkbug’s eggs, is one of the other projects Adams has been working on this summer.
Similar to the Codling moth, the stinkbug is a non-native insect from Asia that can ruin crops.
In North America, the stinkbug has no natural enemies, but its native habitat is home to the samurai wasp. The wasp is already a problem in Oregon and the United States.
Adams released approximately 20,000 of the wasps, which are only 1 to 2 millimeters long, this year.
According to him, “in their natural region, they provide 80–90% control of this stinkbug.”
He claims that the majority of orchardists are content to adopt non-pesticide measures, especially given that all insects eventually develop pesticide resistance.
Playing God with natural systems may be perilous, and experimental pest management gone wrong has resulted in high-profile and disastrous cases. None was more significant than the 1935 introduction of cane toads to Australia.
To manage the Cane beetle population, toads that are endemic to South America were introduced. The predatory and deadly amphibians, however, mostly ignored the beetles and decimated other local species while mating like rabbits.
In Australia right now, there are thought to be 200 million cane toads.
Adams claims that because of the monumental failure, researchers and managers now undergo extensive levels of scientific and political scrutiny before making any changes to the environment.
He claims, “I don’t think we’re at that cavalier stage.” “As a scientific community, we’re beyond that, if I could compare it to 18-year-old thinking we’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof. The process for making decisions is extensive. Nobody makes the decision to reveal anything.
Journalist Eli Francovich writes about recreation and conservation. His book, which will be published in April 2023 and is based in eastern Washington, discusses the reintroduction of wolves to the western United States.
Located in Hood River, Oregon, Columbia Insight is a nonprofit journalism organization that focuses on environmental problems in the Columbia River Basin.
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