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New state ag chief opposes cutting pest programs

BECKLEY, W.Va. -- West Virginia's incoming agriculture commissioner says the state can't afford to eliminate a black fly spraying program in southern counties or cut funding for another program aimed at reducing the gypsy moth population.

"We have to find some other place in the budget to cut the 7.5 percent, rather than those two programs,'' Walt Helmick told The Register-Herald.

Longtime Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass proposed eliminating the black-fly spraying program and cutting $198,000 from the gypsy moth treatment program's budget before leaving office. The proposed cuts were in response to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's mandate to state agencies to reduce spending by 7.5 percent.

Helmick, who won election to the agriculture post in November, said both pest control programs are vital, helping the tourism and timber industries as well as agriculture.

The black fly program, which began in the 1980s, releases a bacterium called Bti on the Bluestone, Greenbrier and New rivers from early spring to late summer. The bacterium kills black fly larvae.

Helmick said the program is not cheap but it is worth the cost.

"We're talking tourism, which is one of those things we speak so highly of and need to put so much emphasis, moving forward into diversification,'' Helmick said.

"That [elimination] would be a major lick there.''

Helmick said cutting the pest control programs would be a "quick fix'' but the consequences would not be good for the state.

"Times are changing. Agriculture and tourism are interwoven. We've got to look at the whole picture.''

Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler-Goodwin said all proposed cuts are still being reviewed.

 


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