Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Oregon plans helicopter spraying of pesticide to kill invasive gypsy moths

A stowaway from marine ports in Russian, Japan and Korea has caused the Oregon Department of Agriculture to try to tamp down the pest before it spreads.

Asian gypsy moths were found in Oregon last summer, a relatively new species to the U.S. and one that could have devastating impacts if its population grows. European gypsy moths have been in North America for years. The state plans to spray four locations around Portland to get rid of both while they are still in the hatching stage.

Asian gypsy moths lay 50 to 1,000 eggs at a time and feed on more plant species in Oregon than European moths, which can lead to widespread deforestation if left alone. So, officials decided to act on three Asian and two European gypsy moths found last summer.

On Saturday, the agriculture department plans to aerially spray 8,800 acres where the moths were found, including portions of St. Johns, Forest Park and Hayden Island in Portland and Vancouver, Washington. The spraying could be rescheduled if the weather conditions make it risky.

The Saturday pesticide application is the first of three planned sprayings. It will start 30 minutes before sunrise and last a few hours. The second and third sprayings are expected to be done by the end of May.

A helicopter will drop Bacillus thuringiensis var. Kurstaki -- called Btk for short -- on the designated areas, most of which are not residential. People who live in those areas with neighborhoods have been notified, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.  

The organic pesticide has been used in other gypsy moth sprayings in Oregon and the country since 1984. The Oregon Health Authority recommends that people stay inside for 30 minutes after the spraying, and anyone with a weakened immune system or serious food allergies should stay away during the spraying window.

"Establishment of gypsy moth threatens forest ecosystems, leads to quarantine restrictions on nursery and horticulture production and results in long-term increases in pesticide use by homeowners," said an agriculture department release.

The state sets traps for gypsy moths each year, and will do so after the spraying to see whether it worked.

At an Oregon Board of Agriculture meeting in December, program manager for the state's insect pest prevention and management division Clinton Burfitt said 19 different insects were found in Oregon last year that had never showed up in the traps before.

"We like to think we have our nose to the ground when it comes to invasive pests," he said.

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