04 Jan

The olive tree pest problem in Butte County

By Robert C. Hill,

Olive trees, outside of the cultured orchard environment are a pest and weed issue of which there are only a few examples. Compared to the worst of noxious weeds, the plant is not particularly invasive, however, they do escape and can become a well-established and persistent non-native, displacing native species and they are expensive to remove. The more significant problem is the insect and disease pests that the neglected, abandoned, or feral olive trees harbor.

Non-native orchard trees, of any kind, if not cared for, become a noxious pest because they are a source of re-infestation and re-infection to the adjacent active agriculture. This situation results in the continual requirement for pesticide applications in the active orchards in order to maintain control over the reoccurring pests.

The Olive Fruit Fly (OLFF) introduced into California in 1998, is considered the most devastating insect pest of the olive industry in the Mediterranean region, and now in California.

In California, the fly is living and reproducing in untreated olive trees in parks and public areas, residential and commercial landscaping, and neglected and abandoned orchards. The unabated fly population makes OLFF control in the state’s commercial olive groves a chemically intensive, profit robbing undertaking.

As things are now, removal of all feral and uncared for olive trees is essential to gaining control over the devastating pest they harbor.

In Butte County, when the olive industry was at its peak, there was about 5,800 acres of commercial olive orchard. The 2003 Agricultural Departments’ crop report records 1,550 acres harvested. The 2004 indications are that less than 1,000 acres were reported as treated for OLFF. The balance of the acreage is out of commercial management and therefore untreated. There is no practical way to account for the number of ornamental (landscape) and feral olive trees on private, public and commercial land but given their common occurrence, the quantity is likely to be substantial and upwards of a hundred acres or more.

To date there is only one successful program to address the feral and neglected orchard tree removal issue in this county, it is the Agricultural Department’s “Land Development Project Review” instituted under the Agricultural Element of the County General Plan. Land development permit procedures, over seen by the Department of Development Services, calls for conditions to mitigate the impacts caused or exacerbated by any development project.

Basically, if yo want to develop a given parcel of land one of the things you must do is, remove all of the remnant orchard trees. A lot of neglected olive trees have been removed in Butte County by this process, but the scope of the process is limited to lands for development. Baring the discovery of a silver bullet, OLFF Integrated Pest Management procedure, what is now required is a creative and multidimensional approach with built in fiscal resources to address all the other neglected and feral olive trees.

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