County Comment: The Mighty Oak vs. Mighty Moth

County Comment
The Mighty Oak vs. Mighty Moth
by Norman Bassett, Public Information Officer Washington County, Maryland

This year, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners will prevent an environmental problem that occurred last summer when thousands of acres of forestland in Washington County turned brown due to Gypsy Moth infestation.
Money allotted to the Gypsy Moth Spray program in the County budget for Fiscal Year 2007 was not sufficient to meet state program needs for matching money, fewer acres of trees could be sprayed, and where there are normally green mountainsides in the summer, large patches of brown appeared
In previous years, the fund allocation was around $26,000. This year Maryland's Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, raised its request to a total of $112,000. Commissioners wanted to know why, before allocating additional taxpayer funds, and requested a presentation by the state agriculture representatives.
Maryland Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Earl Hance and Central Region program coordinator Tom Lapp visited the Board in its regular meeting on April 8th to discuss the need for the Gypsy Moth Spray program in the County.
The gypsy moth is the most destructive pest of forest and shade trees in Maryland. The caterpillars eat the leaves of oaks and other hardwoods in May and June. Heavy populations of caterpillars will eat most or all leaves in a tree. Large outbreaks have affected hundreds of thousands of acres statewide. Heavily defoliated trees may refoliate, but are still weakened, especially if defoliation occurs again the next year. Weakened trees are more vulnerable to other forest pests, diseases, drought and other stresses, and may die.
The Forest Pest Management Section conducts an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for the gypsy moth to minimize unnecessary losses as the result of the gypsy moth, through monitoring, assessment, information and education, and pest control actions. The program is primarily geared toward residential areas that are forested and high use recreational areas. Lupp told the Board that 8,900 acres of trees in Washington County had significant defoliation in 2007.
The Commissioners learned that there were 175,000 acres of forest infested last year, the majority in Western Maryland. Program funding comes from Federal, State and County sources, with the County contribution making up 30% of the cost share. This year's program is funded at $3.6 million from the state. Full County participation would mean that 17,700 acres in Washington County would be sprayed.
A problem with funding the program is that the County budget is set in June of each year, and the Gypsy Moth program does not know how much funding will be necessary until results of surveys are seen, and how much will be available in the state budget until March of the following year.
Proposed General Fund operation budgets for Fiscal Year '09 were discussed later in that meeting, and as part of the General Fund Budget- Other Government Program review, the Gypsy Moth program was discussed. A compromise was reached that would place $100,000.00 in the budget category for FY 2009 and set that number as a program limit in coming years, while utilizing $86,000 from the Commissioners' Contingency Fund for this year, to bring the program request to $112,000 for FY '08, to fully fund the request.
All 17,700 acres in Washington County will receive treatment this year. The Agriculture Department will use both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in the spraying activity, scheduled to begin in May.