Bloodthirsty mosquitoes aren’t the only evil-doers in the insect family that can put a damper on what’s left of our summer. There’s also the gypsy moth.
Deciduous trees and plants are the fare of these winged marauders, of which the state Department of Agriculture is conducting a vital headcount these days around Maple Valley and Covington and other parts of King County and Washington. Depending on how many of the little buggers are caught in 23,000 bright-green, cardboard traps around the state (5,500 of them in King County, the largest share), we’ll know if their numbers remain under control or if we’re in danger of vast quantities of leafless trees.
The gypsy moth is one of America’s worst enemies of greenery, at least among insects. They devour the foliage of 500-plus types of trees and shrubs and, if unchecked, can wreak environmental and financial havoc. In states where they’ve been most prolific (Washington isn’t one of them, fortunately), economic losses have averaged $30 million a year for the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the losses were due to quarantines placed on timber and agricultural products. In one 10-state area in the Northeast, the number of defoliated acres almost doubled to 1.6 million.
Starting in the 1970s, Washington’s efforts have prevented the gypsy moth from doing their worst here. If that ever changes, pesticides and a virus that only affects these particular moths would likely be pressed into service.
With the right luck and vigilance,though, this year won’t be any different from the past success at keeping gypsy moths at bay. Leafless trees are okay in the fall and winter, but not this time of year. Mosquitoes are one thing. Tree-eaters are something entirely different.
Editor Pat Jenkins