Little bugs can cause big problems.
A suppression program for gypsy moths administered by the Warren County Conservation District will try to help curb their numbers. Heather Wilcox, district manager, said the program comes with certain criteria for landowners to meet.
There must be a dwelling within 200 feet of the closest forest. Also, the property cannot be publicly owned or used commercially.
At a minimum, the property has to contain 23 acres. Another requirement stipulates at least 20 percent of the property has to include tree species highly favored by gypsy moths.
Among the highly-favored species are elder, apple, aspen, beech, basswood, birch, hawthorn, willow and witch hazel. Oak is also one of the species, Wilcox said, and there is quite a bit of it in the area.
During a recent meeting on the program within the county, Wilcox said there were about 10 people in attendance. Half were landowners and the rest were from the district or other agencies.
The program is voluntary and is intended for private wood lot owners. Participants establish spray blocks and then use a biological spray known as Bt, which stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, and gradually exterminate the gypsy moths.
"It happens over a period of time," Wilcox said.
At the district, officials take calls and go through a checklist. If the person qualifies, they work with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Within the county, Wilcox said there are some hot spots of gypsy moth activity. In their caterpillar phase, they are capable of causing defoliation.
"The last time we saw a big outbreak was in the early '90s," Wilcox said.
At this point, Wilcox said she's not sure defoliation can be seen. However, those involved with the program hope to address egg masses and prevent defoliation in the coming years.
Tim Frontz, DCNR area forest health specialist, said there are significant egg masses which are medium or large in size in western counties north of the Tionesta Natural Area such as Warren County, Venango County and Forest County. If the moths are not treated, he expects to see defoliation next year.
Adequate moisture in May helped promote a fungus and a virus which both work to control the gypsy moth population, Frontz said, and that is why there has not been much defoliation this year. Although one year of defoliation could be tolerated, he said the problem comes when successive years of it add up.
Anybody interested in the program can contact the district at 726-1441.