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Friday, Jun. 24, 2011

Traps for grapevine moths being set across wine country

OLYMPIA - Pest-tracking officials have begun hunting an insect that could threaten wine grape production in the Columbia Valley, the Washington State Department of Agriculture announced Thursday.

By mid-July, 1,500 traps will be placed in 11 areas throughout the state to detect European grapevine moths, an invasive species that prefers to feed on grape flower buds and berrylike fruit.

No sightings have been reported in Washington, but officials worry the moth might hitchhike from California, where it was first detected in 2009. California quarantined nine counties this spring in an effort to contain infestations, according to The Associated Press.

WSDA officials say they are taking steps to prevent similar outbreaks.

Trappers will target areas in the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Columbia Valley, Puget Sound, Red Mountain, Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain and Lake Chelan.

"It's a threat to our grape growers here, and that's why we're out there looking for it," said Mike Klaus, a pest survey coordinator with the WSDA.

Pest tracking is problematic because it's expensive and and the insect is nearly impossible to find, said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

"But proving that you don't have it is as valuable as proving that you do," Scharlau said.

If Washington is declared moth-free, growers will feel better about transporting products in and out of the state, she said.

Klaus will work with three trappers and estimates the operation will be relatively inexpensive. The traps use pheromones to attract grapevine moths, and emit "a pretty powerful lure," Klaus said.

If the moths have migrated to Washington, Klaus is confident they will be found. If any are found, more traps will be circulated to locate the center of the infestation.

Traps will be placed primarily in vineyards but also near residential grape plants and commercial nurseries, Klaus said. Traps will be checked every two weeks and collected in September.

Washington ranks second in U.S. wine-producing states and has more than 700 wineries.