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Combine to fight crickets

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Utah officials are wise in trying to get Congress to re-establish a federal cricket control program.

Until 1994, Congress allocated about $5 million a year to control crickets in the Great Basin.

The decision to terminate the program in 1994 made sense as cricket problems then were small and the program had accumulated a surplus of $19 million. That surplus ran out in 1999.

In the ensuing years, the so-called Mormon crickets have become a huge problem. This year Utah has been overrun by the pests — officials are saying it's the worst infestation in 60 years.

Next year is not expected to bring any relief. In fact, Richard Dunkle, deputy administrator for the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, said that if the winter is mild, "the Mormon cricket outbreaks in 2002 could be even more widespread, severe and destructive."

In some areas, it's so bad that as Michael Anderson, mayor of Oak City, Utah, stated, "Our children don't even dare to go outside or sleep in their own rooms for fear of the big, black creatures."

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, Anderson and others are urging a House subcommittee to spend $8.7 million to help Utah fight future cricket invasions.

Combined state and federal resources are needed to keep the crickets under control. Failure to do so would be devastating.

More than 1.5 million acres — or nearly 2,400 square miles, which is larger than the state of Delaware — in Utah are infested with crickets and grasshoppers. Cary Peterson, a spokesman for the Utah Commission of Agriculture and Food estimates that the pests will destroy an estimated $25 million in crops.

Congress should feel a sense of obligation in helping Utah as three-fourths of Utah's land is owned by the federal government.

Without renewed assistance, there is no program in place to prevent the millions of Mormon crickets and grasshoppers from migrating from their hatching grounds on federal land to valuable croplands and populated areas, Peterson notes.

The problem crosses both state and federal boundaries and provides an opportunity to show how federal and local officials can work unitedly for the good of the people.