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Gypsy Moth Spray Plan Hits Snag

Too Many Opt-Outs Prevent Suppression

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HARRISON – After the extensive gypsy moth damage to area trees in 2020 and last fall’s resounding support of a gypsy moth suppression millage ballot request, it would seem the county would be on its way to more effective control of the tree ravaging pest. Unfortunately, spraying for gypsy moth caterpillars and the defoliation they cause only works if the spraying is allowed. In her March 17 presentation to the Clare County Board of Commissioners, Melissa Townsend of the Clare Conservation District informed commissioners that particular difficulty was being realized.

Townsend said that about 11,000 letters had been mailed out over the previous two weeks to spray blocks and areas affected by spraying offset (the area of overspray outside the property lines). She said the letters explained that the biological insecticide solution, to be applied aerially at a rate of one-half gallon per acre, was essentially a bacteria (BT-bacillus thuringiensis) which is widely used by organic gardeners because of its documented safety. After BT is ingested, it paralyzes the caterpillar’s digestive tract, and after two or three days the caterpillar stops feeding and dies within five to seven days.

Maps available at www.clarecd.org show population count areas, as well as projected spraying blocks.

The letters also explained the spraying is voluntary and is paid for by the Clare County Gypsy Moth Suppression Millage. However, recipients were informed that those who do not want their property sprayed could opt out by submitting a “no spray response” form, acknowledging that their refusal could affect their neighbors’ ability to fight the infestation. Other choices included waiving the required 600-foot buffer around the property, or simply requesting more information to enable a more informed decision.

At the time of the BOC meeting, Townsend said she had received 45 opt-outs, 17 of which had saved the 600-foot buffers (extending out from the perimeter of the property).

“Unfortunately, if we get enough opt-outs in an area, the spray block is eliminated,” she said. “That was the case for block 31 Muskegon Banks, Piney Woods, White Birch, City of Harrison, Browns Haven Sub and Woodstock had opt-outs.”

She clarified that some of White Birch would be sprayed, but that with the opt-outs and their 600-foot buffers, “It’s starting to look like Swiss cheese.”

Townsend said people can submit a FOIA request for the names of the opt-outs.

She also informed the board of her plan to travel to Ovid, Michigan, to witness the March 30 calibration and certification of Al’s Aerial Applicators, the planes used in the suppression program.

Townsend said the conservation district also will be holding an informational webinar in conjunction with Roscommon County from 4-5 p.m. May 5 for landowners. Information for that event will be on the ClareCD.org website.

She also noted that due to the many opt-outs, some areas left out of the original plan due to funding limitations were now being included.

Board Chair Jeff Haskell added that one person in the City of Harrison who opted out for their small lot, has resulted in 77 properties not getting sprayed.

“Bigger chunks may not affect that many people,” he said. “But 77 of them are expecting to get sprayed and aren’t going to.”

Townsend said she is planning to have the map printed and will see that commissioners receive it so they can convey the information to their townships. She reiterated that although she is only a part-time employee, her door is always open and that she is willing to meet at any time convenient to commissioners.

Discussion also turned to the fact that Al’s Aerial is the only applicator in the state, and questions were raised as to whether or not local pilots who do crop dusting could also be interested in the potential for gypsy moth spray work if they were to become certified.

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