PUT YOURSELF in the position of the Mediterranean fruit fly. You have infested an orchard in the suburbs of San Francisco, which you well know is a capital offense. Hearing that the authorities are preparing an air raid against you, you nervously begin chewing faster. Then you hear that the governor of California has intervened to block the air raid and, instead, is calling out the National Guard. What's going on here?

It's a serious matter. The Mediterranean fruit fly is a genuine menace to the fruit and begetable crops. Agronomists consider the only sensible remedy to be aerial dusting with the insecticide malathion, in a dose of 2.4 ounces per acre. But when they began mixing up the chemicals to dust Santa Clara County, environmentalists vehemently protested.

Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., who has recently announced his intention to run for the Senate, declined to permit the aerial spraying on grounds, he said, that it would threaten "the sense of well-being and the security of 500,000 residents of Santa Clara County." (A frivolous question: How many Californians does it take to spray a fruit fly? Answer: 500,001 -- one to handle the spray gun, and 500,000 to share the experience.)

In the federal view, low-level spraying by foot troops isn't good enough. The situation calls for air power. Here in Washington the Agriculture Department suggested that it might have to quarantine all of California's fruit and vegetable production. On the West Coast, that aroused the recurrent anxieties that the rest of the United States essentially considers California to be a foreign country anyway. In addition, it threatened tremendous losses to the state's fruit and vegetable growers -- not to mention hideous increases throughout the country in produce prices at the grocery store. In a fine display of bipartisam fervor, everybody in California politics -- except for the congressmen from the San Francisco suburbs -- began screaming denunciations at the governor. Friends of the Earth grumbled about a "political panic," but its words were hardly audible in the uproar.

Gov. Brown put out a statement grudgingly dropping his opposition to air warfare. Tanks filled, the bombers prepared for takeoff. Is it a defeat for ecology? That depends whether you take your ecology from the viewpoint of the fruit fly, or the fruit.