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PA Commission Game begins gypsy moth spraying effort

From the Pennsylvania Game Commission

-- In an effort to protect wildlife habitat, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials have scheduled gypsy moth spraying for 22,113 acres of its more than 1.4 million-acre State Game Lands (SGLs) system.  Spraying will cover 17 different SGLs in late April to early May, as soon as leaf-out occurs and gypsy moth egg masses hatch.  In 2008, the agency contracted to spray 42,731 acres of 38 SGLs.

“Those participating in spring gobbler seasons may encounter helicopters or other aircraft spraying State Game Lands or other forested areas,” said William Capouillez, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director.  “We want those hunters to rest assured that the spray - Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) - is not harmful to humans, and will impact only gypsy moth caterpillars when they ingest vegetation that has been sprayed.”

The Game Commission will pay $554,151.78 out of agency’s federal Pittman-Robertson Grant Reimbursement (75 percent) and Game Fund (25 percent) to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees the Statewide Cooperative Spray Program for gypsy moths.  Last year, the agency paid DCNR $1,349,993.58 out of agency’s Growing Greener II funding for gypsy moth spraying.

“In the summer of 2008, a statewide inventory of gypsy moth impacts on SGLs identified defoliation on more than 104,000 acres,” Capouillez said.  “To prioritize and focus spraying efforts, we looked at a series of factors, including: the importance of oaks on a particular SGL; socio-political impacts of each SGL; whether there were existing Important Bird Areas, Important Mammal Areas or critical/unique habitats on the SGL; past gypsy moth impacts and resulting forest habitat conditions; and financial values of timber stands.”

From this point, in 2008, the agency identified 42,731 acres in most critical need of treatment to prevent similar defoliation or loss from the expected gypsy moth hatch that year. This year, the agency is focusing on an additional 22,113 acres. 
 
Based on the present data, this year’s spraying will occur in the following regions: North central, 4,159 acres; South central, 2,982 acres; Northeast, 860 acres; and Southeast, 14,112 acres.  The Northwest and Southwest regions, which suffered little to no gypsy moth defoliation, are not slated for spraying at this time.

“While the agency has been conducting limited gypsy moth spraying to target high value areas over the past 10 years, we have not had a statewide outbreak of this severity since the late 1990s,” Capouillez said.  “From 1984 to 1991, the agency was engaged in a large-scale salvage operation from the last gypsy moth outbreak.  In that eight-year period, for example, the Southcentral Region averaged almost 3,000 acres per year of salvage harvests, as opposed to their target goal of 1,200 acres of forest habitat improvements per year today.

“This rate of harvest has had many impacts on the Game Commission’s Forest Management and Wildlife Habitat program, both positive and negative.  While the short-term increase in revenue was viewed as a positive, it also was seen as a negative as it will impact long-term timber management and, consequently, future timber revenues, and it helped create inflated expectations about funding the agency through timber revenues.”

Capouillez noted, more significantly, the previous gypsy moth impacts enabled a rapid transition of forest habitat types on SGL from mixed oak to stands dominated by birch and maple, which are not nearly as beneficial to wildlife as mast-producing oak stands.

“In the 1940s, after the chestnut blight nearly wiped out American chestnuts, which provided the best and most reliable wildlife foods, oaks filled the void for wildlife,” Capouillez said.  “Unfortunately, in some areas, we now are seeing birch and maple replace the oak stands lost to gypsy moth defoliation.

“Prior to gypsy moth impacts, oak trees in Huntingdon County reportedly were producing 173 pounds of acorns per acre.  After gypsy moths, the same areas were yielding only 67 pounds of acorns per acre.  Seven of the eight lowest acorn production years occurred after gypsy moths hit the area, and 43 percent of oak trees were lost.”
 
Capouillez noted that, based on the value of SGL oaks for wildlife, the agency simply can’t afford not to invest in spraying this year.
 
“We know that mixed oak habitats are important for all wildlife,” Capouillez said.  “Squirrel populations fluctuate with acorn crops. If acorn production is low, bears will den earlier, weigh less, produce fewer and smaller cubs and get into more nuisance situations.  Deer over-winter survival and reproduction suffers when acorns are sparse.  Neo-tropical birds, such as cerulean warblers, only occupy habitats dominated by oaks.  Wild turkey and ruffed grouse populations also depend on acorns.”

Broken down by region, the following listing of each SGL slated for spraying includes acreage scheduled for spraying and the total acreage of each SGL.
 
Northcentral Region: SGL 89, in Clinton County, 4,159 of the 10,571.2 acres.  Southcentral Region: SGL 107, in Juniata County, 2,243 of the 7,122.237 acres. SGL 170, in Perry County, 172 of the 9,308.596 acres. SGL 212, in Snyder County, 75 of the 512.73 acres. SGL 256, in Perry County, 313 of the 1,254.53 acres.
 
SGL 258, in Perry County, 179 of the 796.93 acres. Northeast Region: SGL 116, in Pike County, 160 of the 3,089.832 acres. SGL 119, in Luzerne County, 77 of the 7,967.29 acres. SGL 207, in Luzerne County, 28 of the 2,073.501 acres. SGL 221, in Monroe County, 443 of the 4,618.1 acres. SGL 224, in Luzerne County, 152 of the 624.3 acres.
 
Southeast Region: SGL 46, in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, 514 of the 6,254.67 acres. SGL 80, in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties, 1,731 acres of 10,708.431 acres. SGL 83, in York County, 603 of the 767.685 acres. SGL 145, in Lebanon County, 356 of the 2,815.81 acres. SGL 156, in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, 1,521 of the 5,184.05 acres. SGL 211, in Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties, 9,387 of the 44, 432.08 acres.

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