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Gypsy moths hit the park and dine

April 13, 2008|By LYN WIDMYER

If I had my choice of facing Mothman or a voracious band of gypsy moths, I would take Mothman every time.

Mothman, for those unfamiliar with unexplained and unearthly phenomena, is a creature who used to hang around Point Pleasant, W. Va.

In 1966, several people reported seeing a large brown creature, shaped like a man, but featuring large red eyes and big wings.

Mothman appeared several more times over the next year. Local residents blamed him for poor TV reception and sleepless nights as Mothman apparently liked to scream a lot. Sightings of the creature continued for about a year when Mothman used his bat-like wings to fly somewhere else.

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The only victim of Mothman was a dog named Bandit who chased Mothman and WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN! Too bad Bandit was not more like our dog Zach. Zach would have reduced Mothman to a mothball in less than 30 seconds.

Mothman's red reflector eyes would have joined the deer bones and ground hog teeth that litter our yard. I would not like to meet Mothman but I would rather have him roaming Harpers Ferry National Historical Park than gypsy moths.

The gypsy moth is a native of Europe, introduced into the United States in 1869 near Boston, Mass., by a French scientist. The gypsy moth starts as a caterpillar and molts its way through 5 life stages before becoming a moth. Large servings of tree leaves sustain the caterpillar during its journey to moth-dom. Oaks are the preferred menu but gypsy moths are not fussy.

Since 1980, gypsy moths have chomped their way through 13 million forested acres in the northeast. They have migrated to West Virginia and now our forests are part of their all-you-can-eat buffet.

The National Park Service (NPS) predicts heavy damage will occur on over 1600 acres of parkland in Harpers Ferry if action is not taken now. When it comes to gypsy moth egg masses, anything larger than 25 millimeters indicates a healthy population.

A 2007 survey shows the average egg mass size in the Harpers Ferry National Park to be 32 millimeters. The NPS is proposing to spray tree foliage to kill the pesky creatures.

Camille Campbell, chair of the Shandondale Gypsy Moth Committee (SGMC), knows all about gypsy moth damage.

She remembers the devastation from 2001 when shade trees on her property were stripped by moths. Camille could actually hear gypsy moth caterpillars chomping the foliage.

The damage for 2008 is expected to be much worse. Members of the Shannondale Gypsy Moth Committee have worked with the Jefferson County Commission, the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conference to control the voracious leaf eaters.

The SGMC has raised $7000 to pay for spraying in projected infestation areas in and around Shannondale, including portions of the Appalachian Trail.

The spraying proposed by the NPS and the Shannondale Gypsy Moth Committee will control gypsy moth infestation for only a few years. Camille knows keeping our trees safe from gypsy moths will require continued, long-term cooperation between local government, the National Park Service and property owners. I am glad she is willing to help form that coalition.

The thought of meeting Mothman may be scary but the prospect of watching gypsy moths devastate our trees is absolutely terrifying.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

The spraying proposed by the NPS and the Shannondale Gypsy Moth Committee will control gypsy moth infestation for only a few years. Camille knows keeping our trees safe from gypsy moths will require continued, long-term cooperation between local government, the National Park Service and property owners. I am glad she is willing to help form that coalition.

The thought of meeting Mothman may be scary but the prospect of watching gypsy moths devastate our trees is absolutely terrifying.

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