Pa. expanding efforts to control gypsy moth

March 08, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The destruction last year was nothing like that of the early 1990s, but Pennsylvania plans to more than triple the area of public and private forested lands for aerial spraying this year to contain further damage by the voracious gypsy moth caterpillar.

The state will spray 222,375 acres in 27 counties, said Terrence Brady, spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In the spring of 2007, about 65,000 acres in 19 counties were treated for the gypsy moth.

One of the worst areas of the state for the infestation is south central Pennsylvania, Brady said. In western Pennsylvania, counties including Westmoreland and Somerset have been hard hit. In the northeast, Carbon, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties have had infestations.

Spraying of private forested properties also will nearly triple, Brady said. Of the 222,000 acres, about 95,000 acres are privately owned, up from 35,000 last year.


Franklin County has 148 blocks of land comprising 5,115 acres in the spraying program this year, Brady said. Sherri Clayton, senior planner for Franklin County, said those blocks include 270 properties in 13 of the county's 15 townships.

Fannett, Greene, Guilford, Hamilton, Letterkenny, Lurgan, Metal, Montgomery, Quincy, Southampton, St. Thomas, Warren and Washington townships have properties scheduled to be sprayed this spring, Clayton said.

In the 2007 spraying program, only 905 acres in seven blocks of 16 properties were sprayed in Franklin County, according to Brady and Clayton.

The total number of acres to be treated in Franklin County will be higher than 5,115 because state forest and park lands also will be sprayed, Brady said.

The area in Fulton County to be sprayed also will increase, Brady said. This spring, 4,582 acres of private property are to be sprayed, up from 3,092 in 2007.

"Fulton had a pretty good commitment last year," Brady said.

The caterpillars defoliated about 900,000 acres in 2007 in Pennsylvania, Brady said, getting so hungry in some areas that they moved from oaks to evergreens, not part of their regular diet.

"Certainly, it's nowhere near what we had in the 1990s and the 1980s," he said. In one year in the early 1990s, the defoliation totaled 4.1 million acres in Pennsylvania, he said.

The economic impact of defoliation is hard to measure, Brady said. An oak tree can survive up to two years of gypsy moth defoliation if other conditions, such as drought, do not exacerbate the problem, he said.

The cost of spraying all of those acres will include more than $5 million in state and federal funds, Brady said. For the private lands, there is a matching cost paid for by the counties, he said.

The local match for spraying in Franklin County is $17 per acre, split between the county and the municipality, Clayton said. In some cases, the municipalities went to the property owners and asked them to chip in, she said.

When spraying begins depends on when the caterpillar eggs hatch, Brady said. Franklin County will be among the earliest for aerial spraying, with a natural bacterial concoction that attacks the caterpillars' digestive systems.

Pennsylvania might be making some headway against the gypsy moth. Brady said the infestations are cyclical, and the egg clusters appear to be less healthy and not as dense as those of last spring.

Native to Europe, Asia and Africa, the gypsy moth was brought to this country in 1868 in a failed experiment to breed a new strain of silk-producing caterpillar, according to Michigan's Gypsy Moth Education Program Web site. Some of the caterpillars escaped, spreading through much of the United States and eastern Canada.

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