ANNAPOLIS – A bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing a task force to study gypsy moth infestation and ways to control it before it gets any worse, but arborists and environmentalists want to be better represented.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture said gypsy moths are the most destructive forest pests in Maryland. The moths eat the leaves on hardwood trees in May and June and have affected more than 1 million acres since 1980.
“It literally looks like a war zone once they come through,” said American Joe Miedusiewski, a lobbyist for the Maryland Arborist Association.
The moths were introduced to the United States in 1869 and arrived in Maryland in the early 1970s, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Egg masses hatch in late April or early May, yielding small black caterpillars that are carried from tree to tree by the wind, according to the Maryland Cooperative Extension.
Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, introduced a bill to establish a task force representing the General Assembly, state agencies, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Forests Association.
The state has had a cost-share program with the federal government to control the pests, but a new focus on slowing infestations to Midwestern states has led to a halt in some federal funding for next year, according to a written statement from the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Natural means to control the moths include predators, parasites and diseases, but insecticides are sometimes necessary, according to a written statement from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which said the “leading edge of the gypsy moth infestation has long since passed through Maryland.”
But Frank Dudek, an arborist and owner of the Carroll Tree Service, Inc. in Owings Mills, said in testimony to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that 2008 could be “one of the worst years we’ve ever seen.”
He said the problem has been ongoing in western parts of the state, but worsening in the Baltimore area in recent years.
Left unchecked, Dudek said the moths’ fecal matter can leach into drinking water, and the thousands of acres of dead trees they leave can put the state at risk for forest fires.
But the methods for controlling the pests can be harmful as well, leading some advocacy groups to push for representation on the proposed task force. Chemical Sensitivity Disorders Association President Dr. Lawrence Plumlee urged lawmakers in written testimony to include a public health representative.
He said some people experience nausea, short term memory loss, asthma and other side effects from pesticide sprays and often have to avoid sprayed areas for 10 days.
Dr. Diana Post, a veterinarian and president of the Rachel Carson Council, a group promoting alternatives to pesticides, said the chemicals can affect pets, chickens, wild birds and crustaceans, including blue crabs.
Dudek said the task force could be a valuable way to unite environmentalists and the government in addressing a statewide problem.
“I think there are a lot of groups out there looking at gypsy moths, but everyone’s sort of working in their own little corner,” he said. “If the state can put together a task force, bring some of these groups together and unify their energies, I think they can do a whole lot more for the environment.”
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