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Gypsy moth larvae damaging trees around area

A gypsy moth caterpillar eats leaves. (Provided photo — CharlesC, Wikimedia Commons)

WEST CHAZY — The barren landscape at Rockwood Maples in West Chazy looks like a scene from a Hitchcock thriller, a chilling Kafka insect tale or an Agent Orange backdrop.

The culprit is not fertile imaginations or herbicidal warfare but gypsy moth larvae.

Warning signs

Last year, Dwight Relation noticed a few Gypsy moths around, and they did very minimal damage.

“They laid a lot of eggs,” said the West Chazy resident and owner of Rockwood Maples.

“The eggs are mostly on the oaks and pines. I didn’t think nothing of it. I thought the winter would kill them because usually we get real cold winters. They say if you get like 20 below zero for two, three days in a row, that will actually kill the moths off. I think because of global warming, we didn’t get the cold weather the way we should’ve.”

This spring, Relation saw these little, tiny black, probably 3/8- 1/2 inch long, little worms.

“Like little caterpillars,” he said.

“I didn’t know what the hell they looked like when they were out of the larvae stage. They were real, little black things. They were all over the houses and all over up here. People were asking what they were. I said, no, I don’t know. They were all over my woods and stuff. We didn’t think really nothing of it.”

Green alert

Relation thought birds would eat the larvae.

“Then as the summer progressed, I saw they were getting furry and turning into a caterpillar,” he said.

“I happened to look in my woods, and I could see the leaves, starting to defolage my leaves and the trees. So what I’d do, I go up there every day and it seemed liked it was getting worse, worse and worse. Then I got a hold of Parkers and told him what was going on, and he says it’s gypsy moths.”

Knowledge is power

Relation started to do research and reading up on the insects.

“I found out what they do, how they feed, the males will fly around after they get into a moth and the females don’t,” he said.

“Anyway, they ruined a lot of my woods. They just kept eating and eating and eating. They defolaged the oaks mostly first. Then, they went to the pine trees and the white birches. “There’s just no needles left on the pines at all, no green needles. They are just a solid brown.”

Consumed canopy

Relation estimates the defoliation impacts 100% of his oaks and 100% of his white birch.

“They are just really starting to get into the maples now,” he said.

“I was back up there again today, and they are all underneath the leaves. They got 30 to 40% defolaged on the maples now and that’s only been about two, three days now. I would say in the next week or so, they should be 100% defolaged on the maples.”

Relation canvassed his neighbors’ properties. “Mine got hit worse than anybody that I could see,” he said.

“You look at it in the woods, and you can see for hundreds of yards. In the woods, it’s solid brown. There’s no green vegetation at all. Everything’s gone. It almost looks like it got hit with a nuke, you know what I mean, like a chemical, and it just killed everything in sight for hundreds of yards through the woods, you know.

“It probably wiped out, I’d say 40 to 50 % of my woods, maybe 40 to 50 % of the oaks mostly in one area. It took out about 50 acres of it.”

Waiting game

The West Chazy resident owns 200 acres and leases quite a bit for sugar maples.

“If it defoliates, it will come back, but it will only do it only two to three consecutive years, and this is my second year,” he said.

“I tried to get spray earlier this year out of Pennsylvania because they came up and did the Parker family spray. You have to use a chemical (BT), which is not very strong so it don’t kill all the birds and the bees and all that stuff.

“It’s more like an organic spray.”

When Relation went to do it, it was too late. “Because they were past that larvae stage, like a baby stage,” he said.

“Once they get to a certain size caterpillar, it takes stronger, potent chemical, which you can’t use after because it’s not environmental. “We had to skip this year, so hopefully next year we can get the spray. But somebody has to try to help us out as far doing this. I pay a lot of taxes in this town. I pay approximately $15,000 in taxes.”

Relation contacted a lot of people and DEC.

“They do write-ups on it and stuff like that, but actually doing anything, they said there’s no money allotted for it and this and that,” he said.

“So, I don’t know what to do. My hands are tied on that.”

Counter-measures

Relation was told DEC and Cornell Cooperative Extension reps would make field visits this week.

“Some of them (gypsy moths) are starting to die off, and I don’t know why,” he said.

“They say it’s because they have some kind of virus. I says to them, if it’s a virus, why can’t you come up and take a sample of this virus and see what is actually killing these insects. And then maybe bring it to a chemist and have this chemical man-made, and we could put this in the woods and probably kill all these gypsy moths and save everybody millions of dollars.

“He said that’s a very good idea and this and that. It’s a fungus or virus. It has a type of bacteria that kills these insects off. I don’t quite understand it because I’m not a scientist.”

This is Relation’s first encounter of this kind.

“They eat up above, and they give off some kind of odor or the chemical itself or whatever, and it kills them off slowly and it just keeps spreading through the whole area and it kills them off,” he said.

“I can see it slow down in the last four or five days. They have slowed down, and I see a lot more dead every time I go into the woods.”

Relation would like scientists to sample the fungus or virus and determine its composition.

“I was thinking if they could find out what’s killing it, it’s like COVID-19,” he said.

“They found out a thing to cure that. I’d like to to do the same thing and help find some kind of chemical whatever it gives off and do the same thing man-made and kill these insects off because they are destroying hundreds and thousands of acres.”

Digital outreach

Heath, his son, put Rockwood Maples posts on Maple News.

The family has received emails from throughout the Northeast and Canada.

“We have people calling from all over the place wanting to know what this was,” Relation said.

“One guy out of Connecticut said ‘I hope they do more in your state than they did here. They wiped out thousands and thousands and thousands and acres that never grew back. It’s like a desert.

“Somebody’s going to have to do something quickly on this because you can wait two or three years to have it done. You got to get on it now. I don’t know what they’re going to do on it.”

“Out of hand”

Relation said it’s like the plague that just keeps spreading and spreading and spreading.

“They say it only lasts a year or two, but I don’t believe that because they are going to keep spreading eggs,” he said.

“If the eggs don’t get killed by our normal, cold winters, I believe it’s going to spread more and more and more, and it’s going to wipe out more areas. It’s going to get out of hand, I think.”

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