Scientists form 'swat' team to combat pest

Scientists form 'swat' team to combat pest »Play Video

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A vital part of the Oregon's economy could be at risk this summer due to an invasion of a new pest that could rival the gypsy moth problem of the 1980s.

Scientists are scrambling to find answers before it's too late.

The foe is a tiny fly with an exotic name -- and its a pest with the power to turn Oregon fruit crops into mush. 

Scientists at Oregon State University are looking for ways to control the spotted wing Drosophila suzukii, otherwise called a vinegar fly. 

Scientists said the fly arrived in California two years ago, likely from a fruit shipment out of east Asia, then hitched a ride here to Oregon last summer. 

The potential for damage is huge.

"We are looking at approximately $20 million looking at 4 crops only," said OSU horticultural entomologist Vaughn Walton.

That short list includes cherries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries: 20 percent of those crops in Oregon are at risk if a control plan for the bug doesn't work.

Researcher Amy Dreves is trying to find some clues in the dirt using an array of traps in and on the ground

"Establishing as much as possible about this pest helps us to be able to develop a management plan," she said.

That's because it is too late to wipe out the spotted wing Drosophila. All they can do is find the best game plan to limit the damage.

Dreves quips the effort is akin to an agricultural "Crime Scene Investigation" team. 

"Well, we call it the SWAT team," she said.

So far the pest has spread to 15 counties in Oregon. With the 2010 growing season about to start, it's a race against the clock.

Dreves said plans to control the new pest are still not final but likely will include sanitation measures by growers; chemical spraying; and mass trappings.