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Bug Boot Camp: 21 Days on the Front Lines of Fruit Fly Defense

Posted by Palmer Pinckney, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA, APHIS in Plants
Mar 06, 2024
APHIS’ Public Affairs Specialist Palmer Pinckney II, services a fruit fly trap in a residential area in California’s Rancho Cucamonga

Think 'boots on the ground' means desert camo and squad leaders? Nope, for me, it meant swapping press releases for pest prevention in Redlands, California. As an APHIS public affairs pro, I'm used to writing articles on agriculture, but this past December 2023, I traded my computer keyboard for a GPS and became a rookie fruit fly wrangler. Buckle up, because this 21-day sprint was one for the (fruit) fly books!

So, how did this ocean-going ex-sailor fit into this fruit fly fight? You might think years of military deployments prepared me for anything, but the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and APHIS have been waging a different kind of battle, requiring a different kind of strategy. And it is a battle! APHIS and CDFA are now working to eradicate four fruit fly species—Mediterranean, Oriental, Queensland, and Z tau—in portions of six counties in California. The quarantine areas together total 1,248 square miles.

My mission in Redlands? Navigate county roads, finding and replacing hidden Jackson traps – used to monitor and eradicate fruit flies – in community fruit trees, and respect private and public properties along the way. Every day was a new adventure!

The heroes in the field weren't just Federal and State agriculture specialists in khaki or jean pants (no camo, mind you!). They were the homeowners welcoming traps placed in their yards, the local farmers entrusting their crops, and the scientists and other pros tracking the winged foes. We were a team, each thread vital in the quarantine tapestry.

And the stakes are high. These fruit fly species are among the most damaging, feeding on and growing in over 400 host plants and with the potential to cause extensive economic losses.

Long days, unpredictable weather, and endless paperwork…but the impact? Priceless. Seeing communities unite and witnessing our work yield results was the reward. After decades of military deployments, this 'fruit fly patrol' invigorated me like nothing before.

So, when you savor that California citrus, remember the silent work. Remember the APHIS teams, the CDFA pros, and everyday heroes guarding the safety of your food. A mission worth a citrus-flavored salute!

Category/Topic: Plants