A male gypsy moth. The invasive species has moved into Agassiz over the past two years and will be targeted by a ground spray treatment this spring. (Flickr/gailhampshire)

Province to tackle invasive gypsy moth species in Agassiz

Btk bacterium spray is found naturally in soil

The province will be tackling Agassiz’s gypsy moth issue this spring.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNROD) has proposed a ground spray treatment to eradicate the moths, a species whose habit of eating the leaves of fruit, hazelnut trees, blueberry plants and apple trees threaten extensive damage to local species.

Gypsy moth trapping data from 2017 showed a population of moths populating near residential and farm land in Agassiz for at least two years – and growing steadily.

“This insect is periodically introduced into communities in British Columbia through the transport of goods and house effects from effected areas in the east,” FLNROD wrote in a letter to the District. “The province has carried out numerous eradication projects in several areas of the province since the 1970s.”

Dave Holden, a survey biologist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said pest populations grow easily without natural checks and balances.

“When things are introduced into a new environment they often lack natural enemies and without that control on the population, they can get to very large levels very quickly,” he explained. “When they escape that natural level of control, they can grow really quickly into high population levels and cause a lot of damage.”

The ground spray of biological insecticide ‘bacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki,’ known commonly as Btk, uses a bacteria found naturally in soil that effects larvae of moths and butterflies feeding at the time of the spray. The ministry said the spray poses no public health risks to humans or pets, and is commonly used by organic farmers.

Still, Health Canada encourages residents to report any unusual health problems like coughing, headaches or skin rashes by visiting healthcanada.gc.ca/pesticideincident or calling 1-800-267-6315.

While the spray has been proven to be harmless to most species, Holden said it could unintentionally kill other insects with alkaline digestive systems.

“But competition from [gypsy moths] can kill a lot of insects too,” he added. “They can eat almost the entire leaf structure in an environment which leaves nothing left for the other species to feed on.”

The Ministry’s proposed applications will treat 41 hectares of residential area in Agassiz – targeting streets from Martin Road to Highway 9. The treatment is proposed to begin this spring.

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