Crickets invade Southwest IdahoWeiser-Washington County rancher Cody Chandler says he's not only running cattle on his ranch but millions of Mormon crickets on the range north of Mann Creek reservoir.
“When they graze on the range they strip the wheat grass of everything, including the seeds,” said Chandler. “In the aftermath the wheat grass is gone and next year we won’t be able to get enough feed off it, so we might have to feed hay and that’ll cost us a lot of cash.”
Mormon crickets have hit parts of Southwest Idaho hard, especially in Owyhee, Payette and Washington counties. But there are also scattered damage reports coming in from Gem and Elmore County according to the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
Washington County Ranchers face the creepy Mormon cricket every 4-5 years. Chandler says the destruction is very fire-like in that they move in paths where they’ll take out a 10 yard swath and the rest of the field is fine. They lay eggs as they go and have turned some roadways into stinky, bug slicks. A few years ago crickets caused car wrecks on Highway 95 where they crossed the road by the millions.
Mann Creek Camp ground north of Weiser is gearing up for the eclipse and will have a full house during that weekend. The prime facility is not only in the path of totality for the eclipse but also for Mormon crickets.
“There’s a lot of crickets but it’s manageable,” said Forest Service Host Dean Kessler. “It was worse a few days ago, they’re back near the creek in the Northwest corner. We’re going to try and bait them away from the campsites, but the numbers are declining.”
Cody Chandler says that the infestation is bad. “This years infestation is worse than 2013. They’re bigger this year, about 3 inches long and where they’re bunched up, there’s an odor.”
The bugs are named after Mormon pioneers who moved west in the late 1840’s and suffered an infestation during their first crop. The pioneers saw firsthand the devastating effect on pastures, gardens and grain fields.
Localized cricket infestations happen every year in Idaho, different cycles in different places according to Lloyd Knight of the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
The USDA says that spreading bait is the best way of killing crickets. Since the crickets are cannibals, they’ll kill other crickets and eat them when they run short of food.
Chandler said that he first noticed the crickets two weeks ago when he was riding his range north of Weiser. He said the crickets showed up over night but says they’re thinning out right now and should be gone in a week or two, but the bugs have destroyed prime range land.
“The crickets are the biggest I’ve seen, they’re all over three inches and jet black. I can’t get over the smell. They baited them up over the hill by air. I rode over there and it smelled like dead cattle,” said Chandler.
A USDA website says the crickets do the most damage to alfalfa and wheat fields and says farmers can curb crop damage by baiting insects. The State Department of Agriculture is passing out carbaryl bait to farms 5 acres or larger for free.
“The bait works as long as you can get the crickets to stop and eat. When they're moving they’ll crawl right over it. But if they stop and eat, you got ‘em,” said Kessler.
Chandler says the crickets are finally in decline.
“I’ve counted up to 50 per square yard when they first came out, but they’re dying off now and you’ll only see about five per square yard,” said Chandler.
The crickets have moved away from the Chandler ranch house, but they’re still on the move three miles north. For now the rancher and his family are breathing sighs of relief.
“I hate those stinky bugs,” said Chandler.