Bath forum to discuss browntail moth management

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BATH — The state is holding free presentations to provide guidance on managing the invasive browntail moth.

One hour-long meeting will be held at the Patten Free Library, 33 Summer St., at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22. Others are scheduled at the Morris Farm in Wiscasset on Feb. 27, and at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust in Kennebunkport on Feb. 28, both at 6 p.m.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension are providing the presentations on the caterpillars, which have microscopic hairs that break off during the six times the insect molts during its lifetime.

The wind carries those hairs, which can cause a human skin rash similar to poison ivy. People can experience respiratory distress in more extreme cases.

The state expects this year’s browntail moth infestation to be more significant, with the Maine Forest Service last fall finding webs on the tops of apple and oak trees from the town of York to Washington County. The spring generation of the caterpillars will appear in May.

Preregistration is requested by calling 287-2731 or visiting maine.gov/healthylawns.

The browntail moth first appeared in 1897 in Somerville, Massachusetts, after being accidentally brought over from Europe, according to the website of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. By 1913 the insect had migrated throughout New England, as well as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada.

Although the browntail moth population declined throughout the rest of the 20th century, the insect remains in two places in North America – the coast of Maine and the tip of Cape Cod, Charlene Donahue, a forest entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, said in an interview last month.

The insects are moving inland, with an epicenter in Bowdoinham, and are showing up in Topsham, Brunswick, Bath, West Bath, Freeport and Cumberland, she noted.

The Maine Forest Service offers a list of arborists willing to prune browntail webs during the winter, as well as a list of licensed pesticide applicators willing to tackle the insects and other pests with chemicals in the spring.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

An hour-long meeting on battling browntail moth infestation will be held in Bath Wednesday, Feb. 22.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.