August 29, 2008

Dying Trees Scar Local Forests

By Crable, Ad Umble, Chad


At the J. Edward Mack Boy Scout camp near Brickerville, officials this fall will reluctantly cut down trees killed by rampaging gypsy moths to keep the timber from falling on buildings occupied by Scouts.

At popular Gov. Dick Park, also in the Furnace Hills, officials expect to have to "salvage cut" several hundred dead trees and replant parts of the forest.

And earlier this summer, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced it was felling thousands of dead trees on 164 acres at four different game lands in the Furnace Hills, including prized old oak stands beloved in nearby Mount Gretna.

Forests at all these locations had been sprayed with a bacteria insecticide this spring, but the dreaded gypsy moth caterpillars defoliated and killed mature oak trees anyway.

Against this backdrop, and despite the appeals of Elizabeth Township supervisors and some worried county residents, the Lancaster County Commissioners this morning elected not to participate in a state-subsidized program for aerial spraying to thwart more gypsy moth damage next spring.

Even though surrounding counties have signed on to the state spraying in recent years, the commissioners decided not to. The state spray program would cost public and private landowners a vastly reduced spray rate compared to contracting with private sprayers.

Commissioners were told by state foresters this morning that the cyclical gypsy moth population was on the decline locally.

Though this was the current commissioners' first decision on participation in the state-run gypsy moth spraying, Lancaster County officials haven't been involved with the state program since 1996.

Surrounding counties have. There was no state spraying for gypsy moth damage from 2002 to 2006.

In June, an Elizabeth Township supervisor appealed to the commissioners to be part of the state spraying. The supervisors organized a private spraying program for residents, but it was only partially effective.

The county paid a private contractor this spring to spray Money Rocks County Park on Welsh Mountain.

This morning, the commissioners accepted, without discussion, a recommendation from county parks director James Hackett to not participate in the state program this year.

Hackett told commissioners that gypsy moth numbers are declining along with complaint calls about the insects. Indications are that there won't be a need for intensive spraying, he said.

Representatives from the state's Bureau of Forestry echoed Hackett, saying that while the county should monitor the moths, they are on the decline.

"I believe the outlook for Lancaster County is that we will have very minimal defoliation by gypsy moth in 2009," Kevin Carlin, forest pest suppression manager with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told commissioners.

Despite the overall decline, Carlin said the county can expect to see some pockets of defoliation, while adding: "That is not indicative of a gypsy moth outbreak."

After the meeting, Hackett said that if the county decided to be in the program, his department would have to hire a part-time person to coordinate the efforts.

With defoliation from gypsy moths expected to drop next year, the administrative expense isn't justified, Hackett said.

At Gov. Dick Park, north of Manheim, board member Chuck Allwein called the gypsy moth destruction to the 1,105-acre public park "really very bad."

No decision on how to handle the dead trees will be made until a survey is completed and the park's long-range forest stewardship plan is studied.

But, if left alone, the dead trees would likely eventually fall on and knock down live trees, he said.

The park board may consider cutting the dead trees, selling them for lumber and plow the revenue back into replanting the forest, said Allwein, manager of Mount Gretna Borough.

The park will be receiving a $50,000 Growing Greener grant from the state for deer fencing. The fencing could be put in newly cleared areas.

At the Scout reservation north of Brickerville, Gary Guare, a camp ranger, estimated 100 to 150 trees were killed on 1,000 forested acres.

"We will have to get professionals in to take the trees down around buildings. We don't want to kill a Scout," he said.

Staff writer Ad Crable can be reached at [email protected] or 481-6029.

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