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Utah ag officials target Japanese beetle in Weber, Davis counties and elsewhere

By Tim Vandenack standard-Examiner - | Jun 24, 2021

LAYTON — State agriculture officials hired a Layton company to spray in Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties last spring for an invasive pest they want to eradicate from Utah.

Now they’ll be watching, crossing their fingers that they’ve got the Japanese beetle population under control or at least that the insect’s numbers are dwindling.

“We’re optimistic we’ll be able to eradicate it,” said Kristopher Watson, state entomologist and insect program manager for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, or UDAF. The Japanese beetle can destroy lawns and wreak havoc on vegetable and fruit crops, causing a lot of economic damage.

Native to Japan, the insect was discovered in Utah in 2006, when an Orem resident found one of the bugs while tending to her garden, according to UDAF. It was later discovered in Salt Lake and Davis counties and, last summer, 18 of the bugs were discovered in Weber County. That spurred an eradication effort last April handled by Harmon & Sons of Layton and the spraying of more than 300 acres scattered around Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties to get the Japanese beetle.

“It’s a turf-destroying insect. It’ll devastate trees and fruit crops and corn,” said Patrick Paige, who works at Harmon & Sons. The firm was contracted by UDAF to handle the job.

The Japanese beetle is one of about 20 pests and diseases monitored by UDAF, Watson said. In 2020, more traps, 4,538 of them, were placed to help pinpoint its presence in Utah than for any other pest, according to a UDAF report on eradication efforts released last February. Officials found 105 of the bugs. Next on the list was the European gypsy moth — 1,968 traps were placed and one of the insects was discovered.

“Although most insects are beneficial, pest infestations can be devastating,” reads the UDAF website, and the agency has been dealing with insect issues “since pioneer agriculture began here 160 years ago.”

The numbers of Japanese beetles may seem small, 63 detected in Davis County in 2020, eight that year in Utah County and 18 in Weber County. But the idea is to get a handle on the pest populations before they get out of control. “The goal is to find them when there’s one, not 1,000,” said Watson.

In searching for the Japanese beetle, the UDAF places traps to find out where the insect may be. Based on those findings, the agency will pinpoint where to spray to eradicate the bug. “They’re pretty strategic in the way they go about it,” said Paige.

The spraying efforts by Harmon & Sons in April focused on 204.5 acres in Davis County, 88.6 acres in Weber County and 34.3 acres in Salt Lake County. Another 51.3 acres in Utah County received treatment as part of a separate effort.

Now, new traps are being placed in suspect areas to get a gauge on whether more insects remain, which will dictate whether additional eradication efforts will be needed. Japanese beetle captures in Salt Lake County in 2020 were down 58% compared to 2019, according to UDAF figures, indicating the efforts have an impact.

The insect is established in some Eastern U.S. states, Watson said, “but we don’t want it in the West.”

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