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Predicted moth damage now visible in local forests

by Kate Shunney

Forestry and agriculture officials warned earlier this year of more serious consequences from a second year of spongy moth infestation in Morgan County and their predictions have come true.

Local residents and property owners are now seeing hardwood trees stripped of their leaves as spongy moth caterpillars eat their way through oak trees, hickory nuts and virtually any other hardwood they come across.

Tens of thousands of caterpillars have attached themselves to homes and tree trunks, even in areas sprayed over Mother’s Day weekend.

Homes on Cacapon, Sleepy Creek Mountain and Sideling Hill have been treated to halt the progress of the spongy moths, but the caterpillars outnumber the sprinklers.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture has said trees are vulnerable to death if they were defoliated by the caterpillars last year or if they have other tree diseases. Large areas of forest along provincial roads have gone from spring green to brown in recent weeks.

Property owners can physically remove and dispose of the caterpillars, can place a band of folded fabric or sticky material around the trunk of trees to catch the caterpillars before they get to the tree canopy to eat the leaves, but all these steps are labor-intensive and have minimal impact on the spongy moth population, tree experts say.

A section of forested Cacapon Mountain shows the effects of leaf-eating spongy moth caterpillars. Brown areas stand out on local mountain slopes where trees have already lost their spring leaves.

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