Cumberland plans roadside spraying for browntail moths

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CUMBERLAND — The town, in another attempt to eliminate browntail moth caterpillars, will focus its efforts this spring on the east side of Interstate 295.

Residents in the area will have the opportunity to opt out of the roadside spraying program. The Town Council decided in a straw poll Feb. 13 to pursue a ground-based program, rather than an aerial initiative.

About 750 properties covering 1,250 acres are within the potential impact zone, Town Manager Bill Shane told the council that evening. Given a 250-foot required setback along Cumberland’s 3.5-acre shoreline, 106 acres of that zone cannot be sprayed.

“I am not very confident that we’re going to have much success in getting folks to allow us to aerial spray; I think we’ll have quite a few opt-outs,” Shane said, noting that last year’s ground-spraying program had 16-20. “Had we had that in the aerial, I don’t know if that would have been effective.”

Spraying from the air and skipping properties could be a challenging process, Shane said in an interview last April, shortly before the town began its ground-spraying effort using a truck-mounted sprayer shooting an organic compound at trees about 150-200 feet away.

The 250-foot ocean buffer area was not sprayed, and an additive in the spray made the droplets heavier, better directing them to the target, Shane said.

The town spent about $16,000 on the project, which Shane last week called “moderately effective.”

Shane said he hoped to have a representative from the state attend a council meeting in late April or early May in order to give an overview on the program.

Leaves still on trees this time of year are likely to be inhabited by hibernating brown tail moths, cocooning for the winter. They emerge in the spring and molt their microscopic hairs, which the wind carries, potentially causing a skin rash similar to poison ivy in some people. Those who are sensitive can experience respiratory distress in more extreme cases.

The browntail moth first reared its hairy head on this continent 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. The insect by 1913 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 has remained 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 caterpillars are moving inland, with an epicenter in Bowdoinham, and are showing up in Topsham, Brunswick, Bath, West Bath, Freeport and Cumberland, she said.

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 spray 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.

Cumberland plans ground-based spraying of brown tail moths this spring.

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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.
  • Chew H Bird

    Kudos for Cumberland for doing the right thing!