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Gypsy moth infestation prompts warning

Town of Tonawanda officials have advised residents living in the area between Woodland Drive and Woodcrest Boulevard that they may need to take action against gypsy moths, notorious insects whose larvae munch through foliage and weaken trees.

Bill Swanson, Town Forestry Department foreman, said four houses on Woodland Drive had reported larvae in mid-June, and that since then the moths spread to neighboring streets.

Richard Brooks, who lives on Marjann Terrace, one of the affected streets, said he had not been aware of the insects' effects until several neighbors noticed their trees were suffering.

"I didn't know what they were," he said. "I thought they were just caterpillars . . . Hopefully, they'll turn into moths soon and get out of here."

The town Highway Department estimates that less than 100 trees overall have been affected, though the number has grown.

Assistant Forestry Foreman Jack Schifferli, who has been identifying and treating affected trees on a daily basis, said last week that he had treated three town trees, but that, as of Wednesday, the count had jumped to 25.

"The wind can move these caterpillars around," he said. "But we've kind of got it confined."

Town Highway Superintendent Bradley Rowles said that while other pest and disease incidents have occurred in recent years, the Oct. 13 snowstorm had already attenuated trees in the area.

"It's always a bad time, but because of the October storm, we're probably a little more on edge about this," he said. "We're watching it very closely."

Rowles said they have tried to emphasize anti-larvae methods that are cheap and made of simple materials. They said they are avoiding insecticides, though some residents opted to hire private companies.

In 2000, a similar situation in Lewiston resulted in $42,000 worth of aerial pesticide spraying.

Officials said the risk for tree death after one season of the larvae is small, and serious damage takes more than one year to develop.

"Homeowners have done a great job," Rowles said. "We don't expect to see anything like this next year."

Though strategies to deal with the larvae vary, a common method is to trap them on the trunk with sticky substances before they can reach the leaves. The town is recommending Tanglefoot, a commonly sold carmellike goo made of soy and vegetable oils, petroleum jelly, or other viscous household substances.

To prevent damage, sticky agents are not applied directly to bark, but rather to cellophane or another form of tree-wrap. Once the larvae are stuck, they can be killed with soapy water, and the wrap thrown out. "I just used some duct tape and Vaseline, and it seemed to work fine," Brooks said.

e-mail: kreedy@buffnews.com

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