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Local News

Santa Barbara County Cuts Back Full-Time Plant Pathologist, Entomologist Positions

Samples of invasive bugs or plants now will be sent to Sacramento for identification

Despite protests from members of the public and the employees themselves, Santa Barbara County eliminated two longtime agriculture positions to save $57,000.

In approving its $965 million budget Wednesday, the county reduced a full-time entomologist and full-time plant pathologist position to two half-time positions.

In their place, the county plans to hire a full-time licensed general biologist.

"Many people will regret the loss of this expertise," said Heather Scheck, the plant pathologist whose position is being cut to half-time. "I disagree that the department can combine our positions without losing service."

The county is considering merging the two positions into one full-time position. County officials believe the change will allow the county to continue providing entomology and pathology pest identification services more cost effectively and efficiently.

The change would reduce the number of field visits the workers perform to diagnose plant or pest problems. Samples of invasive bugs or plants would be sent to Sacrament for identification. 

"The department will continue with providing entomology and pathology pest identification services more cost effectively and efficiently along with enhanced support from the California Department of Food & Agriculture laboratory," said Rich Morgantini, county fiscal and policy analyst. 

County entomologist Brian Cabrera said agriculture plays a large role in Santa Barbara County, and "where there is agriculture, there are insects and weeds."

Cabrera said invasive pests could arrive at any time into the county in the form of someone's luggage, car or trunk. 

He said he recently took samples from apple tree of some eggs that appeared to be that of the invasive marmorated stink bug, which if discovered could be destructive to Santa Barbara's trees. He's awaiting the results.

"Santa Barbara county's most iconic trees could be lost to these pests," Cabrera said. 

Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, opposed the elimination of the full-time positions. 

"Plants need doctors like people need doctors," Caldwell said. "Weeds, pests and disease could wreck incredible damage to our economy."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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