August 29, 2008

Leaf-Ing It To You County Says No To State Gypsy Moth Spray Plan

By PJ Reilly

Lancaster County's forest landowners will be on their own again next spring in the fight against gypsy moth caterpillars.

The commissioners on Wednesday unanimously agreed the county should not participate in the state-run 2009 program to spray woodlands to kill the leaf-eating caterpillars, just as the previous board decided last year for 2008.

That means private property owners in the county who want to have their forestlands sprayed will have to hire contractors, who typically charge more than twice the state's fee.

"We were hopeful that if we took the effort this year to have the spraying done ourselves that the county commissioners would feel this program is something the county should be in," said Shaun Seymour, an East Earl Township resident who joined a group of landowners on Welsh Mountain this past spring to hire a contractor to spray 500 acres of forested property.

"Obviously, the commissioners don't feel woodlands are worth anything."

Dennis Stuckey, chairman of the county commissioners, said the board opted not to join the spray program because state forestry officials are forecasting reduced defoliation due to gypsy moth caterpillars next spring and because the board didn't want to take on the cost and burden of coordinating the program.

"On a broad countywide basis, which is what we have to look at, everything we've been given indicates it's not as big a problem as it would be in a high infestation year," he said.

"We were concerned about the cost to us to administer everything, and the logistics of it, in a down year."

Elizabeth Township Supervisor Rodney May, who in June urged the commissioners to join the state program, on Wednesday said he was disappointed by their decision. But he also said he understands it.

"This board is trying to be more frugal with our money than the previous administration," he said. "They made their decision, and I guess we'll have to live with it."

Each year, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry organizes the spraying of state-owned forest properties across Pennsylvania. The spray is designed to kill gypsy moth caterpillars as they begin feeding on tree leaves. If the caterpillars eat all the leaves on a tree, that tree becomes susceptible to disease and can die.

After two years of defoliation by gypsy moth caterpillars, Pennsylvania Game Commission announced plans this summer to clear- cut about 120 acres of dead trees on three tracts spread across Furnace Hills in Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

Seymour said he's arranging to cut about one acre of dead trees on his 10-acre property on Welsh Mountain.

"Cutting is expensive, but if you don't cut them down, they fall on your house, and that's even more expensive," he said.

Jim Hackett, director of the county's parks department, said that while there were "pockets" of woodlands in the county that suffered "severe defoliation" this past spring, damage was down overall. About 500 acres were defoliated this year compared to 1,200 acres last year, he said.

Kevin Carlin, the Bureau of Forestry's forest pest suppression manager, said the reduced defoliation in Lancaster County is indicative of a statewide trend, which is expected to continue next year.

"I believe the outlook for Lancaster County is that you will have very minimal defoliation by gypsy moths in 2009," he said.

The state's 67 counties are invited to participate in the state's spray program each year.

When a county opts to join, county officials must contact landowners who want their properties sprayed, plot those lands on a map via Global Positioning System units and then collect the money for the spraying from the participating landowners.

Those landowners are charged the state's rate. Last year, that was $17 per acre, compared to about $40 per acre charged by most private contractors.

In 2009, the state's rate will climb to $21 per acre.

"Who knows what the private contractors will charge?" Seymour said.

Seymour and his neighbors paid $38 per acre to have their lands sprayed this past spring.

In Elizabeth Township, a group of landowners banded together and paid $43.50 per acre to have 175 acres sprayed by a private contractor.

Both May and Seymour said they don't know if the residents in their areas who had their lands sprayed this past spring will do it again next year.

"We'll have to send out a letter and talk about that," May said.

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