FREDERICK – Concerned with the economic and environmental impacts of gypsy moth infestation, officials from Garrett, Allegany and Frederick counties argued Wednesday that Western Maryland needs to be a top priority for the aerial spraying used to kill the invasive pests.
Members of a gypsy moth task force and other state officials met in Frederick to discuss the statewide infestation problem and make recommendations on effective means of suppression.
Gypsy moths are the most destructive forest pests in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. They eat the leaves on hardwood trees, causing defoliation.
Repeated defoliation stresses the trees and they eventually die from other natural invaders. Since 1980, gypsy moths have affected more than 1 million acres in Maryland.
Gypsy moth infestation is a statewide issue but largely affects the areas of Western Maryland because of the nature and higher density of the forests.
The task force was created to unite environmentalists and government leaders throughout Maryland to address the problem.
Members of the task force from across Maryland argued over how the program prioritizes sites for treatment, which is done by aerial spraying.
Potential treatment sites are wooded areas where at least 50 percent of the trees are oak and there is at least 50 percent canopy coverage. Additionally, a site must be at least 25 acres, on which there are at least 250 gypsy moth egg masses per acre.
If an area meets those criteria, then its priority is assessed by value.
“Value is on a tree-by-tree basis,” said Thomas E. Lupp, regional entomologist for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. “Trees growing in urban or any area associated with a residence have a higher value than those not in a residential area.”
Lupp, who is not a member of the task force, was brought in as a technical expert.
The criteria leads to rural Maryland being shortchanged, some argued.
“Those areas that aren’t priorities are the areas in Garrett County,” said Frederick Holliday, Garrett County commissioner. There are approximately 90,000 acres of wooded, state-owned land in Garrett County without residences.
Wendell R. Beitzel, a Republican delegate representing Garrett and Allegany counties, questioned the environmental benefit of saving trees in residential areas at the expense of huge forests.
“I think we need to redirect some of the priorities,” Beitzel said.
State officials are trying to get the most bang for their buck. Last year, 100,000 acres were identified and sprayed throughout Maryland.
“You have people from all around the state and you have limited resources, so you develop criteria,” said Earl F. Hance, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. “Everyone has a different priority, what we’re trying to do is create a balance.”
Even if there was unlimited funding, finding manpower is difficult. Work is seasonal and there is training and technical knowledge involved. There is currently one forester for every 20,000 acres in Maryland as compared to other states that have four times as many.