The Clare County Conversation District is generally not the center of any controversy. They are charged with the Gypsy Moth Suppression program which lately is a hot topic as northern Michigan residents face another summer with the gypsy moth.
The first thing cleared up in the Cleaver’s interview with district manager Melissa Townsend is that the program in Clare County is a suppression program, not an eradication program. The gypsy moths will never be completely eliminated, rather the goal is population control and preservation of trees.
Clare County is one of the few counties with such a program. Townsend said she often receives pleas from homeowners with property bordering Clare County to spray them too. Last July, the Cleaver reported the Conservation District received 1,600 calls to their office. Concerns were raised then that 1 mil wouldn’t be enough to impact the suppression program in the county. After a lot of discussion in July of 2020, the Clare County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a ballot proposal for 1 mill for five years. The proposal passed Nov. 3 with a 70.7% “yes” vote.
No one can envy Townsend right now. She’s on the hot seat juggling her job running the suppression program, the Conservation District, keeping the Clare County Commissioners informed and fielding calls and social media messages from property owners.
“I don’t sleep at night,” Townsend admitted. “I awake up in the middle of the night.
“I grew up in Clare County. My family has been here several generations, since the logging.”
She obviously cares deeply about the land, and also is acutely aware that tourism is of utmost importance to the county.
Townsend estimates the gypsy moth program is a $3 million problem the district is left to solve with $1 million.
With the funds available, 18% of the county will be sprayed. Choosing which areas receive spraying is done based on egg mass counts. With the current millage, taxpayers might have assumed all of Clare County would be sprayed. Like other civic matters and taxes, taxes are paid for the greater good.
Property owners became concerned as opt-outs rolled in taking sections of land off the map for spraying. Homeowners not only recall the issues last year, but many remember what it was like 30 years ago when trees looked like winter in the middle of the summer. Townsend said people can submit a FOIA request for the names of the opt-outs.
One can only assume the opt-out property owners are concerned about pesticides and chemicals. The Btk (BT-bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) formulation used for gypsy moth spray programs in Michigan is certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), a national nonprofit organization that approves products for organic growers, as regulated by the USDA National Organic Program. Btk is also used by organic gardeners and farmers, as well as some conventional farmers, to control caterpillar pests of fruits and vegetables. It will not harm humans or animals.
Townsend herself was accidently sprayed in the face with the Btk product. The product is generally labeled control of cabbage loopers (caterpillars).
“If you’ve had cabbage, you’ve been introduced to this product,” she said. “But the product is made to interact with an alkaline stomach, it forms crystals in the stomach, and they cannot digest anything.”
Townsend further explained that it paralyzes the caterpillars too, so they don’t feel anything. As for her exposure, it was just sticky and smelly but not harmful.
Townsend knows the suppression program is working. She cites the Lake of the Pines subdivision as an example. “When we started, Lake of the Pines was devastated. This year they had hardly any egg masses. We aren’t treating them because they are good.”
It’s not only about the gypsy moths in the county. The Clare County Conservation District is busy in multiple ways in its support of county residents and assets. It sold 10,000 trees this spring in its annual tree sale and received a grant to help with recycling tires during the annual recycling effort between the City of Harrison, and Hayes and Greenwood townships.