SALT LAKE CITY — If Mormon crickets invaded a couple of Utah farms, regulators trying to rid the land of the destructive pests would first have to get money from the state Legislature to fuel the fight.
Under a new measure approved Tuesday by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, the state would establish the Plant Pest Fund to tap money from the impacted landowners, the plant industry and state dollars to respond in an emergency.
HB398, sponsored by Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, would provide greater financial flexibility to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to more effectively battle plant pests.
Robert Hougaard, director of the agency’s plant industry section, told lawmakers there have been instances of live, foreign snails found in shipping containers and harmful fungi that have cropped up in certain areas of the country. Under current Utah law, the agency is restricted to battling just plant species, and this measure would expand the regulatory scope to include other pests.
Under the provisions in the bill, the fund would not exceed $10 million, and operationally the department could spend $300,000 a year in eradication efforts or 10% of what is in the fund — whichever is less. The fund would grow over time, Owens said.
Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, said the bill provides a good emergency mechanism to control plant pest outbreaks.
He recalled the arrival of Mormon crickets in the early 1980s in eastern Utah.
“Before we could do anything we had to go get the funds,” he said. “We lost a whole season.”
The spread of the crickets, instead of just causing problems for a few landowners, impacted thousands of acres, Chew added.
“My grandparents had lived through the prior one in the ’20s and early ’30s, when they saw them they were very concerned.”
Chew stressed early action is necessary on these pests.
“If we can jump on the problem before it explodes, anybody who has not had the experience of dealing with them for years, waking up with them in your room and in your bed, it is pretty nice to think we could get ahead of the game,” he said.