By Kitty Mayo
Loggers and firewood suppliers in Lake County attended a February public hearing in force to hear presentations and pose questions about quarantine measures that may be needed to address the recent gypsy moth infestation.
“It’s an important topic happening in my district,” said State Rep. Mary Murphy, D-Hermantown. “I think it’s going to have a big impact on the logging industry.”
Labeled one of America’s most destructive forest pests, the gypsy moth has made its slow, sure eastward march across the continent to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Chuck Dryke, assistant director of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Plant Protection Division, said the invader is here to stay.
“Once they are established, as they are in Lake and Cook counties, it becomes a matter of trying to manage their populations,” he explained.
Accidently introduced to U.S. shores in 1868, the USDA declared them a federally regulated pest by 1912. Responsible for the defoliation of forests, their feeding habits have led to serious aesthetic and economic damage when reaching cyclical outbreak proportions.
In response, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has proposed a quarantine for any “regulated items” that are being moved out of Lake and Cook counties. It is scheduled to begin at the end of April. Affected is anything that potentially has the cocoons or egg sacks of the gypsy moth attached to it – anything that is stored outdoors.
Treating the gypsy moth invasion in northern Minnesota since 2006, the MDA now says the populations are too large to respond. Minnesota would be the 21st state to face a quarantine, with the intended effect of decreasing human-assisted spread by restricting movement of wood products and regulated items.
Anyone moving logs, pulpwood and bark products out of the affected counties will be required to inspect them for gypsy moth egg sacks and cocoons, and remove them prior to transport. While the lumber industry is being specifically addressed by the Slow the Spread campaign, tourists and residents are also being asked to clear their belongings of the insect before traveling out of the counties.
Lake County Land Commissioner Nate Eide, has been waiting to hear the details of the long-anticipated quarantine, especially those regarding compliance agreements between businesses and the MDA. In order to continue timber industry operations, the MDA has determined that compliance agreements be arranged among the agency and businesses such as mills, loggers and firewood suppliers.
Compliance agreements will specify how the businesses will be expected to deal with moving regulated articles with the least risk.
“You can move these regulated articles, but have to do it in a way that lessens the risk of spreading this species,” said Lucia Hunt, MDA supervisor. That would mean participating in an hour of training that teaches what to do when finding the gypsy moth, and making a specific plan for storage and transport of items.
Eide intends to submit a formal written comment to the MDA, along with the strong support of the county board, making a case for a far northern section of Lake County to be exempt. Saying that there is little evidence of the moth’s invasion in that area, he thinks it doesn’t make sense for loggers there to be financially stressed when they are moving wood for sale just across the boundary into St. Louis County.
Defoliation in the Arrowhead is likely four to five years away. Nonetheless, Dryke says that the importance of the quarantine is massive for keeping gypsy moths at bay as long as possible.
“It will have a really widespread effect on ground-nesting birds, streams and the forest itself,” something that Dryke said has taken longer to arrive here because of the quarantines in eastern states. “They will eventually overwhelm all delaying tactics, but nobody’s in any hurry to have these pest infested lifestyle changes happen.”
As populations approach outbreak status over the course of several years, they can have devastating effects on quality of life and the economy. Dryke said that half the value of 380,000 acres of oak was lost in Pennsylvania after a six year infestation.
“They went from a healthy timber harvest to a salvage harvest and lost 50 percent of the value,” he said. “Not to mention that no one wants to hang out in the woods with the ‘ick’ factor and all the green vegetation gone.”
Last year, some Wisconsin state parks closed over the Fourth of July weekend due to a gypsy moth outbreak.
With no natural controls on this destructive caterpillar, they will strip trees bare, even conifers. That leaves trees vulnerable to disease, drought and attack by other insects. One attendee asked if the harsh winter would reduce numbers, and while it might make a small impact, the gypsy moth seems to find the northern climes agreeable. With the perfect combination of forest cover and temperatures, they seem to be spreading more quickly on their northern front than the southern edge of their range.
The MDA has spent $3.5 million since 2006 on treatments designed to suppress the population, but in 2011 discontinued spraying because the populations had reached numbers too high to be effective. Finding more than 71,000 moths in their monitoring traps last year, it was the highest count ever reached in the area.
Lake County residents voiced concerns at the meeting that the restrictions will be too severe, and not work for those needing to move harvested wood to mills and buyers. MDA staff said the quarantine would allow for wood to continue to be moved in most of its usual paths, and harvesters just need to start implementing and documenting mitigation procedures.
Due to the life cycle of the insect, the high risk periods will come in May, when the caterpillars hatch out, and June, when the egg sacks are laid. Both the cocoons and egg sacks attach to any object out of doors, making trees, wood, canoes and campers likely means of conveyance for the pest.
Personal visual inspection is the MDA’s preferred method. Regulated items must examined thoroughly for any signs of cocoons or egg sacks, and any that are found must be removed, typically just by scraping them off.
“It is really the same thing as inspecting your boat for aquatic invasive species when you take it out of the water,” Dryke said.
Other types of treatments include kiln heat treatment for firewood and chemical applications for Christmas tree farms. Hunt advises that any items being transported out of the quarantined counties should be stored at least one hundred feet away from any host vegetation. “The caterpillars can’t crawl past a hundred feet when they hatch,” he said.
Some loggers fear the cost to small operators through compliance regulations will be too high.
“The logging industry in other states has been able to thrive and survive under quarantine conditions,” said Hunt, “so I’m confident Minnesota can.”
Kitty Mayo is a North Shore-based freelance writer.