Local aerial spraying of gypsy moths needed as numbers increase

State wants to protect areas in city, 13 counties

April 24, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

After an absence of 12 years, tree-munching gypsy moth caterpillars have returned to Baltimore in sufficient numbers to warrant aerial spraying this spring.

State officials said spraying will begin today on the Eastern Shore in Dorchester, Somerset and Wicomico counties as part of a larger effort to protect nearly 40,000 acres in 13 counties and parts of the city from gypsy moth infestation.

Early next month, in the early-morning hours, a low-flying helicopter is scheduled to spray a bacterial pesticide, Bacillus thuringensis, in a 135-acre zone near Morgan State University and along Herring Run Park north of Lake Montebello.

Spraying also will be done over more than 1,000 acres in Middle River in Baltimore County, and more than 4,800 acres in Anne Arundel County and parts of Carroll and Howard counties. The spraying is part of a campaign to deal with growing infestations found in the city and 13 counties. It will cost about $700,000.

State officials have notified residents in the spray zones, but are calling attention to the spraying again so that neighbors aren't so alarmed by the low-flying airplanes and helicopters that they dial 911.

"Those are calls they don't need to be getting," said Bob Tichenor, chief of forest pest management in the Department of Agriculture. "They have real emergencies to deal with."

Gypsy moth caterpillars emerge from their egg masses at this time of year and dine on hardwood leaves. They prefer oak trees, and in sufficient numbers can defoliate large expanses of forest, weakening the trees and making them vulnerable to disease or drought.

The 39,616 acres to be sprayed is 18 percent less than last year, and far less than the 100,000 acres and more sprayed during the insect's first appearances in Maryland in the early 1980s.

But gypsy moth populations have been on the rebound in Maryland since 1998 when only 4,000 acres had to be treated, mostly on the Eastern Shore.

Information, including spray dates and maps, is available at www.mda.state.md.us.

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