Freeport will educate, not spray, to combat browntail moth

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FREEPORT — The town is relying on public information, not widespread pesticides, to fight browntail moths.

A meeting about the infestation will be held March 9 at 6 p.m. in Town Council Chambers at Town Hall. Lynne M. Holland, a community education assistant from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, will be leading the presentation.

Some Freeport residents have said they wish more was being done to educate people about how to protect themselves from the moths.

According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, browntail moths “spend the winter webbed in silken-wrapped leaves on the tips of branches of oak and apple trees.” The moths can cause rashes on some people and can result in “severe reactions” for people who touch the caterpillar’s fur.

The moths are found in Maine and along the New Hampshire border, but are worst on the coast from Falmouth to Bristol.

Town Manager Peter Joseph said the town has been increasing its efforts to educate the public over the last three years. He said the problem has been getting worse.

“We’re doing more than what a lot of other towns are doing, but for people who have allergic reactions to (browntail moths), I understand it may not seem like enough,” Joseph said.

Resident Patricia Leighton said the moths present “a serious danger to the health of residents and to their trees, (so) it is necessary to bring more attention to this issue,”

Resident Andrew Molbert agreed, saying, “This is a very serious health issue that requires the maximum attention.”

Joseph said there’s only so much the town can do. He said when the state OK’d aerial pesticide spraying over 10 years ago, it wasn’t effective because too many people opted-out and the program was discontinued.

“I know some people would like to see the state or town do pest control sprays, but that’s beyond where we’re at right now,” Joseph said.

Instead, the town is trying to inform people about how they can best manage and remove the moths. The town held one public information session in 2015 and two in 2016 that were each attended by 20-30 people, Joseph said.

There was also a townwide mailing last year, which will be repeated this month, according to Joseph. The mailings include information about how to remove the caterpillars from trees before they mature into moths.

Joseph said the mailings cost the town $1,000-$2,000, but said it’s worth spending money on public awareness. The cost of the speakers who will give the local presentations is absorbed by the state.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry sent out an email Tuesday with information on how to protect against the moths.

According to state entomologists, if someone sees a caterpillar web, which is a white, silk nest wrapped around leaves, they should clip it and destroy it by dropping the whole web in a bucket of soapy water.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Browntail moth nests like the one shown here can be clipped from trees in early winter to prevent the caterpillars from spawning in the early spring.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • Chew H Bird

    For people who are allergic, simply touching something out doors is a problem. I know folks who are simply unable to be outside due to the hairs of the moths clinging to virtually everything, sometimes for months… Maine is no vacationloand for people impacted by these pests.

    To say: ““We’re doing more than what a lot of other towns are doing, but for people who have allergic reactions to (brown tail moths), I understand it may not seem like enough,” Joseph said.” This is simply “wrong” if we are to attract tourists and protect our most vulnerable residents.

  • david rose

    Every article I read on browntail moths says “clip out the nest and drop it in soapy water.” But that’s not really enough information. What kind of soap? Dish soap? Laundry soap? How much soap mixed with how much water? How long does the nest have to soak? Can I skip the “clipping out” step, and just spray/saturate the nest right in the tree, using a high-pressure sprayer? A little detail please.