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Vineyard pest found in Oregon

Rogue Valley appears free of destructive insect

From wire and staff reports

An insect pest that ravages California vineyards has been found in Oregon for the first time, worrying winemakers and prompting state agriculture officials to consider an emergency quarantine.

Glassy-winged sharpshooters, named for their translucent wings, are dark brown, half-inch-long leafhoppers.

In California, Gov. Gray Davis called the pest the single largest threat to our grape, raisin and wine industries in a very long time.

Traps placed near Oregon nurseries that import plants from California recently caught two glassy-winged sharpshooters, state agriculture officials said.

The insects spread Pierce's disease, a bacterial infection that kills grapevines in two or three years.

So far, the plant disease has not been detected in Oregon, but agriculture officials and vineyard operators say the state's wine grapes may be vulnerable.

No glassy-winged sharpshooters have been captured in Southern Oregon, according to Phil Van Buskirk of the Oregon State University extension. Another insect known to carry Pierce's disease, the blue-green sharpshooter, was found in the Rogue Valley last year, but there have been no reported outbreaks of Pierce's disease.

Van Buskirk said some people believe the region to be too cold for Pierce's disease to take hold, though he is unsure whether that's really true. He said there has been a heightened awareness of the potential threat but it has not grown into a major concern.

Oregon vineyards grow more than $23 million in grapes annually and support 150 wineries.

In California, the pests cause an estimated $12 million to $14 million a year in damage.

The glassy-winged sharpshooters are natives of the southeastern United States and thrive in warmer climates. Finding the pest in Oregon surprised some vintners.

It appeared it couldn't live in Northern California, much less Oregon, said John Miller, president of Mahonia Vineyards and Nursery in Salem.

The threat is considered serious enough in California that the state received $22 million in federal assistance to combat the insect. Despite a massive spraying program, the insects have spread from Southern California to isolated pockets in the north near Sacramento.

If the insects can survive Oregon's cooler climate and live through the winter, they could become a serious problem to the state's growing nursery industry as well as to vineyards, officials say.

A wide range of ornamental plants and trees can harbor the insects.