Gypsy moths not welcome in Kitsap

One of more than 24,000 traps set up by the Department of Agriculture statewide.  - Photo Courtesy of Washington Department of Agriculture
One of more than 24,000 traps set up by the Department of Agriculture statewide.
— image credit: Photo Courtesy of Washington Department of Agriculture

KITSAP COUNTY — Gypsy moths are transient, destructive little buggers with forest-sized appetites. The insects eat foliage indiscriminately and their only known enemy in Washington is the state's Department of Agriculture, said Mark Church, who heads up the gypsy moth trapping effort in Kitsap County and surrounding areas.

The department began setting traps on June 15 throughout the county to catch the moths, Church said. The traps will be out until mid-September and will be checked every two or three weeks.

"They pretty much devastate entire forests," Church said. "There are over 500 different species of trees and plants they eat on. Once you get them in the environment, there are no natural enemies in North America."

The Department of Agriculture has set up 24,000 cardboard traps statewide, with 500 in Kitsap County, mostly near ports and residential neighborhoods. A higher concentration of traps is being set up at a site east of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor near the intersection of NW Sherman Hill Road and State Highway 3 because of past gypsy moth activity, according to a press release from the Department of Agriculture.

The moths are most destructive as caterpillars, the press release states.

"The caterpillar quickly strips trees and plants of leaves, destroying some and weakening others so they are susceptible to plant diseases. The caterpillar destroys wildlife habitat, degrades water quality and triggers costly quarantines of timber, agriculture and nursery products," the press release states.

The number of moths captured will determine whether the area will be sprayed to eliminate the gypsy moths.

If the hungry insects set up camp in Kitsap, it could adversely affect the business community. An infestation would require that lumber and other goods shipped out if Kitsap County would first have to be inspected by federal regulators. Business owners would have to front the cost of the inspections, Church said.

The setting of the gypsy moth traps is an annual event in the Evergreen State and is in its 35th year. Thus far, it's been successful as Washington has yet to see a serious infestation of gypsy moths. Last year, 21 moths were caught statewide. The state's last "eradication treatment" was in 2007 in Kent.

Nineteen states in the East and Midwest have permanent infestations resulting in thousands of acres of permanently infested forests, according to the Department of Agriculture.

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