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Gypsy moths meeting their match

KEYPORT — John Lundberg had just one word to describe how he feels about the statement “You can’t fool Mother Nature.”

Baloney.

Lundberg, Pest Program Public Information Officer for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, would know, too. For the past, seven years he’s been involved in the state’s fight to eradicate gypsy moths. A battle, Lundberg pointed out, that requires a certain amount of guile.

WSDA crews converged on the Evergreen Ridge neighborhood near Keyport this week to conduct the third gypsy moth eradication treatment of 2005. In addition to ground and aerial spraying Wednesday and Thursday, the workers will be checking the 200-acre area later this spring and placing specialized traps there in summer to complete the task. That’s where the trickery comes in.

Lundberg explained that although WSDA has been very successful in keeping the moths at bay — they haven’t become established in Washington since they were introduced here in 1979 — skeptics say that the insects can’t be kept at bay or “fooled” by mankind and that nature should be allowed to take its course. While the moths were first spotted in Boston, Mass. in the late 1800s and 19 states have become infested with the forest killers, Washington is not among them.

If the WSDA has its way, it never will be.

“A lot of people say that we should let them become established in Washington state,” Lundberg said, adding that opponents argument is a natural predator will eventually come along to help eradicate the moths. “How long until Mother Nature takes care of the problem? (WSDA has) had a successful treatment program for 26 years.”

The agency’s work at Evergreen Ridge Wednesday centered on a 20-acre portion of the community, which officials believe marked the center of the area that needed to be treated. Lundberg said it is likely that a gypsy moth egg mass was accidentally transported into the neighborhood on one of the RVs that is housed at the site.

Trucks and ground crews sprayed Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk) on plants and trees in the zone as part of the program. Btk, Lundberg said, is extremely safe but must be ingested by the insects to be effective. It does not adversely impact humans or animals. The entire 200 acres received its second aerial application Thursday and will receive two additional aerial sprays within the next month.

“It would take us forever and a day to spray this area by truck,” Lundberg said of the need for air support.

But why all the focus on Keyport?

Of the 68 gypsy moth sightings in Washington last year, 20 were in Evergreen Ridge.

“This is the biggest catch site in the state,” Lundberg said. “It’s a real Amityville horror story,”

Once spraying is complete, small bright orange and lime green traps scented to attract any moths that survived will be placed strategically throughout the area.

“When they go in, they don’t come out,” Lundberg said. “If any emerge as moths we’ll catch them this summer.”

The state spends about $1 million each year on eradication efforts, 75 percent of which goes toward summer trapping, he explained.

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