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Mormon crickets have the jump on the hatching season in and near the Sevier Valley, where the infestation was the heaviest in the state last summer.

Sevier Valley is also the first area in the state to report the cricket crisis this year.Unseasonably warm weather prompted an early hatch, with the young pests being evident where the adults were in abundance last year. They are small now but will reach three inches in length by mid-summer.

A bran-bait battle is planned to control the spread of the pests until they have completed their cycle, laid another generation of eggs and died in late summer.

"They moved out of their hatch pits, then it cooled and the movement slowed, but they will move more as it warms up," said Clyde Hurst, Sevier County Extension Service agent.

One of the concerns of area officials is the April 1 release of irrigation water into the canal. Federal law prohibits using the bran bait within 200 feet of any water, so time may be of the essence in doing as much control work as possible before that date.

Officials of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the federal agency authorized to use poison bait on federal lands, say extermination of the crickets is impossible; control is the aim.

One advantage this year is knowing the location of the crickets. Last year, the migration crossed the Pahvant Range from Millard County and crickets were seen in hoards for the first time along the foothills west of the Sevier Valley.

"Officials knew where they were last fall and know where they are now," Hurst said. "Farmers and ranchers also know where they were, so their positions to fight them may be better this year."

It's unlikely that the Sevier Valley area will get a long, cold, wet spring, the best deterrent against the cricket invasion. "If that could happen, they would become immobile and could starve to death," Hurst said.

APHIS is waging the war against the crickets on federal lands by spreading bran bait, laced with carbaryl poison, from four-wheel vehicles along the west and east sides of the Sevier Valley. Greg Abbot is spearheading that effort, but the staff is limited and the funding is tight. Only five agency employees were assigned throughout the entire state last year, and significant staff expansion isn't expected this year.

Richfield officials are concerned about how many crickets crossed the Sevier Valley Canal and I-70 west of the city last year and deposited eggs. Mayor Jay Andersen personally spread bait when the insects were first sighted within the city limits, and city officials will try to prevent the new hatch getting into the city this year.

Farmers will have to fight their own battles if fields become heavily infested. Bait will be available on a 50 percent cost-sharing basis.

"If the baiting goes as planned, we may not see many crickets on this side of the canal," Hurst said. The canal and the interstate highway formed barriers that stopped many of the pests from their eastward march last year.

As many as 6,000 crickets per hour floated down the canal for more than a week at the peak of that invasion. Most were dead - but some survived, so they could have spread as far north as Fayette in Sanpete County. Use of the water for irrigation pushed some of the pests into the fields in Sevier County.

Roger King, APHIS regional director, said the only reported sightings of crickets so far this year have been from the Richfield area.

He noted that several areas of planned treatment have been identified, based on reported problems last year. These are west of I-70 to the boundary of the Fishlake National Forest; Clear Creek Canyon to Aurora; west of U.S. 89 from Marysvale, Piute County, to Clear Creek; and between Glenwood and Monroe from the forest boundary to private land.