By Stephen Smoot
“West Virginia’s forests are one of our state’s most important resources,” says Kent Leonhardt, State Commissioner for Agriculture in a recent release. He added that “from tourism to our timber industry, our forests are an important economic driver.”
State forests, however, remain under threat from a number of potential pests. Few have plagued them for as long as the pest commonly called the gypsy moth. Government agencies switched the terminology to “spongy moth” due to concerns over the word “gypsy” used as a slut against the Romani people of Eastern Europe.
Gypsy moths first appeared in Massachusetts in 1869. According to the West Virginia Division of Forestry, they spread south and west at a rate of about five to 10 miles per year. The first adult gypsy moths were trapped in West Virginia in 1972 and the first caterpillars captured in the wild six years later.
The WVDA operates a program funded by grants from the US Forest Service to suppress gypsy moths. It helps to cover the cost. Grant allocations vary year to year. These grants help to fund a joint suppression project run jointly by the WVDA and the US Department of Agriculture’s quarantine program for this pest. Harrison, as well as 43 other counties, are eligible for help.
From now until August 31, qualified landowners can request an egg mass survey from the WVDA. Applications must come from a landowner, or combination of landowners with plots of at least 50 acres. This year, the grant covers applications of Mimic and BTK treatments. Mimic treatments will cost landowners $13 per acre while BTK will cost $17 per acre. The USFS grant covers 50 percent of the cost this year.
These treatments use fungal and viral treatments that specifically attack the gypsy moth population. They work best in rainy and humid conditions.
Landowners must also provide a $1 per acre deposit up to $500. If the land qualifies for testing, the deposit will go toward the cost of the treatment. Treatments to suppress the egg masses will take place next year.
Scott Hoffman, who works out of the WVDA Mineral County office, reported that “this year the damage is in a smaller area.” Morgan County saw outbreaks earlier in the year. Hoffman added that “a lot of years, it might be the whole mountain” defoliated by the moths.
Harrison County residents should also “be on the lookout” for another emerging pest, the spotted lantern fly. These brilliant and beautiful insects bring destruction to maple and black walnut trees, many fruit trees common to West Virginia, and can wreck havoc on vineyards. According to James Watson from the WVDA they live by “sucking sap from plants and out of trees.”
Though not yet seen in north central West Virginia, the spotted lantern fly has established themselves in the Eastern Panhandle and are known to spread quickly through “riding” on automobiles. The best way to prevent their spread lies in killing off the equally harmful and invasive “tree of heaven,” which is the preferred host for the spotted lantern fly.
Those who find a spotted lantern fly in the wild should photograph it, record as many details as possible, then report the information to email@example.com