Living with Pests, Living with Quarantines: Routinized Exceptionalism to Protect California Ag

Authors: Jennifer Sedell*, University of California, Davis
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: emergency, exceptionalism, California, agriculture, invasive species, everyday militarism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 45
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Plant health emergencies have become an object of scrutiny in California against the backdrop of controversies over programs to eradicate agricultural insect pests from cities. Plant health emergencies are declared by the state in order to quickly quell newly detected invasive species that could impact California’s $50 billion a year agricultural industry. Every year, California enacts dozens of plant health emergencies that last from weeks to years. In some instances, eradication efforts have reached beyond the fields and into the Golden State’s cities, bringing releases of sterile insects, pheromones, and, most concerning to residents, conventional pesticides into backyards, high school football fields, and natural areas. Drawing on interviews and document analysis related to eradication programs for the Mediterranean fruit fly, light brown apple moth, and Japanese beetle in California, the paper analyzes the context and implications of these regular emergency declarations. While only a handful provoke controversies, these high profile cases have opened the black box on what a plant health emergency actually involves, including separate but reliable funding streams to protect agriculture, delayed environmental impact reviews, limited public participation, and large areas of land under a variety of changing and sometimes overlapping quarantines, the spatial enactment of emergency rule. Moreover, they also beg the question of what should count as an emergency in the first place.

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