WASHINGTON -- Six or seven grasshoppers per square yard over 10 acres eat as much grass as one cow. In this year's plague of the West, grasshoppers moving in black waves are counted by the hundreds per square yard.
The grasshopper invasion is the worst recorded since 1933 -- perhaps the worst ever. Grasshoppers, which threaten crops and rangeland in cycles, were a problem last year in the West, but the last really bad year was 1979.
Last month Rep. Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, the hardest hit state, told disbelieving Easterners that grasshoppers ravaging anything in their path had chewed nylon stockings and curtains.
That was May 9, when Agriculture Secretary John Block made the first $10 million federal commitment for aerial spraying. Last week, Block committed another $15 million.
'Hot and dry weather conditions throughout much of the West have caused the infestation to be much larger than was initially projected,' Block said.
Idaho Gov. John Evans, who declared an emergency in his state, said federal aid may be too late.
Evans, waiting for specially outfitted Air Force aircraft to arrive from Ohio, said there not enough planes in the area to handle the spraying.
In Utah, Farm Bureau President Frank Nishiguch, in pleading with Gov. Norm Bangerter and Utah's congressional delegation for aerial spraying, said planes have been grounded repeatedly by mechanical problems.
Efforts to obtain National Guard aircraft as replacements have been blocked by the inflexibility of federal regulations, he added.
Spraying must be undertaken late enough in the season for the majority of grasshoppers to be hatched but before they lay eggs or migrate to new rangeland and cropland. Grasshoppers are already on the move.
Agriculture Department official Betsy Adams said spraying this year may cover 9.5 million acres.
Fears of farmers and ranchers about loss of crops and grass for feeding livestock have increased pressure to proceed quickly with traditional aerial spraying of chemicals, malathion and Sevin, to the distress of environmentalists.
They say the chemical insecticides kill bees and butterflies as well as grasshoppers, forcing song birds out of areas.
They complain that efforts toward developing a natural control for grasshoppers fell by the wayside when the grasshopper scourge diminished for several years.