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Grasshopper outbreak looming in Wyoming: State may not have the money to fight it

January 14, 2010

[Source: Bill McCarthy for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle]

The redlegged grasshopper, a common western species. (Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, CSU)

Wyoming agriculturists may be facing hordes of grasshoppers next summer – without adequate state funding to combat them.

“Those outbreaks tend to run in cycles,” said Hank Uhden, manager of technical services with the state Department of Agriculture.

Wyoming is in the phase where the grasshoppers are multiplying.

Depending on the weather, many areas of the state, including Laramie County, could be inundated with hoppers, Uhden said.

Grasshoppers were a significant economic problem for agriculture last year, and they are expected to get worse.

Jason Fearneyhough is the director of the state Department of Agriculture.

He told the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee last week that fighting hoppers is “a very expensive proposition.”

Appropriations is reviewing agency budgets in preparation for the Legislature’s 20-day budget session that begins Feb. 8.

The Agriculture Department has $2.5 million in the governor’s recommended budget for emergency insect management. That money has been going to combat mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus.

But Uhden said the governor included a footnote in his recommendations that would allow the agency to use some of that money to fight hoppers.

“I can tell you $2 million is not enough,” Fearneyhough told Appropriations.

Uhden estimated it costs $1.37 an acre to fight grasshoppers, even though technology advances have improved the efficiency of equipment and chemicals.

“You are always going to have grasshoppers,” Uhden said, adding that not all species are detrimental.

There are more than 120 species in Wyoming, and 12 are harmful to crops and gardens, he said.

When numbers grow to eight to 15 per square yard, he said, they begin to have a significant impact on the state’s economy. Not only do they eliminate crops, but they eat grass that livestock need.

Appropriations Committee member Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, said, “We still have to address West Nile. People are more important.”

Committee Co-Chairman Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, said lawmakers need to see what local governments are doing to fight mosquitoes and West Nile virus.

State and local governments may be able to work together to at least become more efficient in fighting both insects, he said.

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