HARRISON – One relatively small insect – with a voracious appetite – has once again staged a ravenous attack on the forests and landscapes of Clare County. After years of struggling with limited budget for gypsy moth suppression, the voters of Clare County passed a millage in 2020 to fund a strong defense against the invader.
It would seem, however, that a perfect solution by way of total “eradication” was expected by many residents – but that has not come to pass. The program is actually a “suppression” program intended to keep the moth from endlessly expanding its range and the ensuant defoliation of the area’s most abundant resource. Yet, even that limited approach appears to have fallen short this year, despite a substantial investment in aerial spraying.
Many residents are quick to point fingers and claim misuse of tax dollars on an ineffective/inadequate program. Such was the case at the June 16 meeting of the Clare County Board of Commissioners, as Arnold Lake resident John Marion of the Woodshaw Homeowners Association spoke vehemently about the program as a hugely irresponsible waste of taxpayer money. He specifically spoke of the pilot as not having flown a proper route, and that the flight path/pattern was ineffective, leaving wide swaths of trees untreated. Marion suggested the county look into using a helicopter service to enable more specific delivery of the pesticide.
“Did we get a bang for our buck?” Marion said. “I’d say we got screwed big tie.”
After accusations of pilot incompetence, it was pointed out that the spraying company has 30 years of experience.
Commissioner Dale Majewski, who lives in Lincoln Township, said that an area where he had witnessed property being sprayed (saw the spray coming out of the plane) now has 90% defoliation.
“I think it’s happening all over,” Majewski said. “I’m not quite sure what’s going on as far as the effectiveness of it, because there’s a lot of devastation in areas that I witnessed he sprayed.”
He likened the current gypsy moth problem to one about 15 years ago when defoliation seemed to happen “almost overnight,” adding that it had taken two to three years of spraying to get the problem back under control. Majewski said the moth had been nearly eradicated at that time, and the existing millage had been dropped.
“Now, almost overnight again, it’s bit us hard,” he said. “It’s going to take two to three years again, from what I’ve seen, to get it under control, unfortunately. My property’s devastated – it’s all over the county. Nobody wanted to see this.”
Commissioner Stephanie Brown said she had been fielding calls and reiterated that people need to understand it is a suppression program, not eradication. She said that Clare Conservation District Director Melissa Townsend was currently working on a count to see how effective the spraying was and would be reporting back to the board.
She said that morning’s report from Townsend showed Long Lake spraying had been 70% to 80% effective.
“If we’d had a millage for the Emerald Ash Borer, it would’ve been great,” Brown said. “But now we have a population of dead ash trees. After I get some data from her, we’ll be coming out with some more news releases and educational materials regarding what’s the next step to get prepared for the fall count.”
Later in the meeting, when the board moved to approve payment of $882,396.56 to Al’s Aerial Spraying, LLC for this year’s gypsy moth spraying, Marion spoke out saying, “That’s obscene. That’s obscene – you could’ve bought an airplane for that kind of money, and hire a pilot.”
In his Chairperson’s Report, Jeff Haskell was receptive to the plight of residents.
“We need to listen to what people have to say regarding gypsy moth,” he said. “And maybe make a better plan.”
Majewski said he believed this year’s infestation is more extensive than it was 15 years ago.
“It’s a big issue,” he said. “I think we all understand that. The spraying didn’t quite go like I – or anybody – thought it would go.”
Commissioner Sandy Bristol noted speaking with people in Arthur Township who were livid about not being sprayed. She also said she’d been told by people in the CCD that climate change could be contributing to the pattern by which the gypsy moth caterpillars hatch, adding there was a likelihood of a “second hatch.”
“I witnessed that at my house,” Bristol said. “Because I had the bigger ones, then all of a sudden I’m seeing the baby ones again. So, maybe the spraying worked for the caterpillars that were there at the time – but then, they kept coming.”
She said that meant there was either a second hatch or caterpillars on a continual hatching spectrum.
Majewski then pointed out that when the fall egg mass count estimate was done in Lincoln Township, there were 2,000 per acre.
“They did another egg mass count [in the spring],” he said. “It jumped from 2,000 per acre to 26,000 per acre. It’s got to be representative of a lot of townships in Clare County.”
Near the end of the meeting, it was clarified for Marion that the gypsy moth suppression program is run by the Clare Conservation District, not the county, and that the CCD is run by the state. Marion also received the names and numbers of the Clare Conservation District Board members and was made aware of that board’s next meeting date of July 13.
Marion posited that it would be wise for the county to hire a gypsy moth program manager, to which Haskell said that could work well, but it could be problem if after a couple years, there were no gypsy moths for another 15 years.
“I agree, it may be the best money we ever spend,” Haskell said. “That’s why I said we need to do some diligence on this and see what is going on – and not waste a bunch of taxpayers’ money.”
Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis then spoke in Public Comment regarding how happy she was with the spraying of her own property in Hayes Township.
“I am so happy that they sprayed,” she said. “It did a great job. I can sit out on my back porch this year and I’m not being rained on by caterpillar poop. So, you hear a lot of complaints and a lot of people are probably not happy – and I understand why they aren’t happy – but I’m going to tell you, Melissa Townsend rocked it. And she deserves your support and backing when people come in to complain, because she did a good job.”
Bristol concurred that she had spoken with people who were happy but advised that spraying requires fine tuning of the timing.
“It’s such a complicated thing to get it right,” she said.
Majewski added that the spraying had been delayed [by weather], and the initial areas that were sprayed are showing a positive result.
“I looked back to see the days they were delayed,” Majewski said. “Those are the areas that are having the problems – because it was closer to a rain event.”