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.
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.