Editorial: Do we really live in Soviet Suffolk?

Cornell University has announced that its integrated pest management program, originally set to continue until June, will terminate in March because of funding cuts. And the future of the program, which develops ways to manage pests and helps people use control methods that minimize environmental, health and economic risks, remains in doubt.

Seeking to write a story, this newspaper called officials at Riverhead’s Cornell Cooperative Extension, which implements the program locally. Specifically, we wanted to speak with an expert about how the early shutdown — or a complete dissolution of the program — would affect the East End. But officials there said they needed county permission to talk to us.
We’ve been awaiting that conversation for nearly two weeks.

We can’t understand why the county has become the arbiter of what can and can’t be said by Cornell Cooperative Extension staffers about this program or why anyone would clamp down on information that’s vital to our farmers and grape growers. This is not the first time our reporting on Cornell Cooperative Extension has been hampered by Suffolk County.

Given that Cornell is funded by a combination of county tax dollars and public contributions, people have the right to know how spending decisions are being made. The county should not have the power to shut down the flow of information about a state program.

We don’t know where the bottleneck is. But while the director of Cornell’s integrated pest management program is lobbying to defend it, no one appears willing or able to comment on the impact of closing it down early.

These cuts affect not only farmers and grape growers but also schools and day care centers as they deal with pest problems on their grounds in the face of new pesticide bans. Ron Goerler Jr., president of the Long Island Wine Council, says an end to the program threatens vineyards and other agricultural operations. Growers depend on guidance from Cornell experts to make decisions about how to protect their crops without damaging the environment.

We know times are tough, but this cut threatens the livelihood of a substantial segment of our community, as well as our health. At the very least, we are entitled to some answers.