Spring has barely sprung, and yet the dreaded Mormon Crickets are already beginning their formidable march.
Nevada Department of Agriculture State Entomologist Jeff Knight held a public meeting on March 30 at which he updated Humboldt County Commissioners and other interested parties regarding the crickets’ early hatch and what state and federal agencies are planning for abatement.
“Our program doesn’t want to kill every cricket in northern Nevada. We’re just focused on what our objectives are—the crop protection, public safety, and rangeland,” Knight said.
During the special meeting, Knight said that he has received multiple calls since Feb. 14 that crickets are beginning to hatch at different areas in northern Nevada. Knight said that this is the earliest cricket hatching has been reported in his 35-plus years of experience, noting that eggs do not usually begin to hatch until mid-June. “They usually mature around mid-June-ish, somewhere in that order. They mate, lay eggs, and eventually die off,” according to Knight.
Also present at the meeting were Alana Wild, State Plant Health Director, Jennifer Kielius, Agricultural Inspector, Daniel Murphy, Plant Health Specialist USDA, APHIS, PPQ, and Curtis Irwin, Agricultural Inspector IV.
Officials said they are not only battling the crickets’ early hatch, but also a pressurized timeline: abatement efforts are most efficacious if dispersed at a particular time in the crickets’ maturity. That timeline is being challenged by the Environmental Assessment (EA) process, which requires a period for public comment, which closed this week. Still, officials feel they are in a good position to battle the insects. “Personally, I think we’re ahead of where we were last year and we’re one of the first states with our EAs out,” Knight said.
The new EA process now requires that the Nevada Department of Agriculture allow public comments on its EAs for 30 days on the NDA website. Murphy said that responding to the comments — which the NDA is required to do by law — is the longest and most difficult part of the process.
The NDA, per recommendation from the Bureau of Land Management and the Wildlife Services, is switching to three-year EAs. Instead of holding an annual commenting period, the NDA will only have to hold a commenting period every three years. This will compensate for early hatches and the delays caused by the commenting process.
Individuals in northern Nevada are accustomed to the sound of rubber meeting cricket as they begin to march down roads and take over residential areas in the summer months. Knight said abatement efforts are concentrated in areas that meet a three-pronged criteria: rangeland protection, crop protection and public safety.
“Our criteria on treating is not just whether there’s two crickets there. There has to be some other things met,” Knight said. Adding to the challenge, Knight said this is likely to be the last year that the state receives federal funding for cricket control, which he said has lasted since 2004. The NDA is currently pursuing other avenues of funding including more federal funding and buy-ins from private land owners. The NDA is also struggling to find applicants to fill open positions in the program. Despite staffing difficulties, Knight told those in attendance that his office is “all set to go. We have plenty of bait, plenty of new machines and plenty of vehicles.”
The NDA uses Dimilin, a chiton inhibitor, which stops crickets from forming a hard exoskeleton after molting. Knight assured those in attendance that “Dimilin is probably one of the safest things that we’ll ever spray” and said cricket-proof fences made out of thick plastic can also be used for private land-owning individuals wishing to use chemical-free methods.
The NDA can only spray Dimilin once — per the Environmental Impact Statement that EAs are tiered off of — which is why the agency must take a conservative approach when spraying and wait for the population of crickets to reach a peak before application. Spraying is also limited by terrain, protected species, residential areas, road access and waterways, he said. Another major constraint they face, according to Knight, lies in the lack of monetary contribution and participation from private rangeland owners.
He said it is almost impossible to get participation from residents that live in heavily subdivided areas. Without the buy-ins and permissions, they cannot spray certain hot spots for crickets. Knight said this is especially a problem in the Grass Valley and Golconda areas, adding that “these sections have been subdivided and there’s 20 landowners and we have to have buy-ins from 20 landowners and I can guarantee it’s not going to happen.”
Orovada rancher and Humboldt County Commission Chairman Ron Cerri asked the ultimate question: “So what’s it going to take to get rid of these crickets?” Knight said that historically, most outbreaks go between three and five years.
“We’re kind of in that fourth or fifth year,” he said. “Eventually the natural predators and parasites and diseases all catch up to them and they crash.”
To report cricket sightings, visit the NDA website at https://agri.nv.gov/News/2018/State_Entomologist__Report_Mormon_cricket_infestations/.