The following op-ed appeared in Sunday’s Ventura County Star under my byline, but I should point out that I was merely one of several people who worked on the language, and the positions stated are those of the Ag Futures Alliance as a whole.
The Ventura County Ag Futures Alliance has watched in dismay the recent conflict over the efforts to control the gypsy-moth outbreak in Meiners Oaks. The gypsy moth is an invasive species that was introduced into the area by human action. The damage the moth can cause is well-documented and, if unchecked, could result in permanent damage to many California native plants, particularly the oaks for which Ojai is famous. We believe the control approach taken by our county agricultural commissioner and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to be a prudent and low-risk response. Our core concern about this incident is what it says about our community and its ability to share responsibility for stewardship of the natural resources we all depend on. In our 2005 report, “A Community of Good Stewards,” we argued for the mutual responsibility the public and farmers have for preserving agriculture and the environment. We live in an interdependent world. What happens in your backyard impacts mine. In order for us all to enjoy the benefits of a healthy environment, we all must be willing to act decisively as good stewards of the land. At times, this may mean accepting the necessity for community action to deal with a pest that endangers us all. In the case of the gypsy moth, this means a measured application of a naturally occurring compound that is toxic only to a narrow range of target species. Do we know everything there is known about the risks of this material or any chemical in general use? No. Which is why we have to rely on the predominance of evidence and the principle of minimum effective use — which means simply, using the least toxic option in the lowest possible dose at the earliest possible moment to deal with the invasive pest. Looking forward, many scientists believe that climate change and increasing movement of goods and people will mean more outbreaks of invasive species. Many such species are waiting on our doorstep, including false coddling moth, citrus psyllid and light brown apple moth. We strongly recommend improving our capacity to prevent the spread of these pests and our ability to respond quickly when infestations are found. We also recognize that in situations involving highly technical information and highly charged emotions, clear and consistent communication is vital. We expect that, in due time, a sober assessment of the recent experience in Meiners Oaks will yield valuable lessons on all sides for the future. As an organization dedicated to preserving agriculture and the environment in Ventura County, we believe it is important to promptly respond to new pests that arrive unwelcome in our community. Our ecological foundation is fragile and these pests have the potential to harm both native species and the capacity of local agriculture to feed us. This is a problem we all share. As good stewards, we have an obligation to work hard to maintain the integrity of our native environment and avoid potential damage from invasive pests that human actions directly and indirectly introduce. The Ventura County Ag Futures Alliance is a collaboration of farmers, environmentalists, farmworker advocates and civic leaders working to sustain agriculture in Ventura County through consensus building and community action. For more information, visit http://www.venturacoafa.org.