Conservation groups seek to limit grasshopper, cricket spraying

The Times-News

TWIN FALLS — Four groups have asked the courts to intervene in a program to spray insecticides over large areas of public land in southern Idaho to control grasshoppers and Mormon crickets.
Conservationists announced Tuesday that while they don’t want to halt all spraying, they believe it should be more limited and controlled to protect the public and the environment.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are developing an aerial spray plan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. All three agencies are being sued in federal court in a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League, Advocates for the West, Xerces Society and Committee for the High Desert.

The Xerces Society is an international organization focused on the conservation of invertebrates.
“Insects play a critical role in ecosystems, especially the pollination of plants,” Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, said in a news release issued Tuesday by the four conservation groups.

“When you try to control grasshoppers you need to strike a balance, not eliminate virtually all the insects in an area,” he said.

The groups say the program must be narrowed to better target grasshoppers and crickets while limiting damage to other insects and birds and fish. Birds potentially affected are meadowlarks, mountain bluebirds, pheasants and sage grouse through the potential elimination of insects as their food source, the groups say.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service completed an environmental assessment describing its plan and determined that it would pose no significant environmental impact.

Grasshoppers and crickets have caused considerable damage in some parts of the region in recent years. The spraying proposal is the first large-scale effort of its kind in many years. Farmers and ranchers have complained that grasshoppers hatch in the sage steppe, then move into fields and pastures.

To address the problem of grasshoppers moving from public rangeland to private fields, APHIS chose a plan to quickly kill large numbers of bugs. APHIS plans to use four different forms of pesticide to kill grasshoppers. Each chemical would cause a different degree of collateral damage.

These pesticides are diflubenzuron — which is sold under the label “dimilin” — malathion and carbaryl. Dimilin only kills leaf-eating insects that shed their skin, while sevin and malathion kill most insects on contact. APHIS would also spread grain soaked in carbaryl.

The plan allows for the use of malathion and carbaryl sprays in areas dominated by sagebrush when there are 20 or more grasshoppers per square yard. No treatment of any kind would be used in certain areas.