Bug to blame for Shannondale’s loss of tree cover

SHANNONDALE — If action isn’t taken this fall, trees from Shannondale to some parts of Harpers Ferry could become permanently defoliated.

That’s the dire prediction of Shannondale resident Camille Campbell, of Moonridge Lane, who is the head of the Gypsy Moth Committee for the area. But the problem isn’t gypsy moths. It’s cankerworms.

“In May, a whole portion of the mountain was brown,” Campbell said. “The cankerworms were everywhere. They come in cycles. The trees have come back, but another cycle will do permanent damage.”

Campbell said representatives from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture will be on hand Sept. 20 to participate in a workshop to discuss solutions to mitigate the cankerworm infestation. The workshop is set to begin at 10 a.m. at St. Andrew’s Mountain Community Center, 58 Mission Road in Harpers Ferry.

When the cankerworms emerge in the fall, the females are wingless and must walk up tree trunks to lay eggs on a tree, where new larvae will hatch in the spring.

The WVDA will show residents how to “band” trees, Campbell said. A nonchemical way that may protect isolated trees is trapping the wingless females in a sticky material called TREE Tanglefoot as they crawl up the trunk to lay eggs. These sticky substances can cause injury to the tree, so they should be applied to duct tape or plastic wrapped in a band around the trunk.
The product should be applied starting in October and the bands must be cleaned and renewed as often as they become crowded with moths. They must be left on till the end of March to catch a similar spring species.

Campbell said the exact number of acres affected by the worms hasn’t been determined yet by the WVDA “but it had to be at least 1,000 acres.”

The WVDA reports that at least 2 million acres in eastern Virginia experienced an outbreak, and cankerworm populations there are showing no sign of collapse. They favor basswood, elm, hickory, maple, oak, birch, apple, ash, beech and cherry trees.
According to the WVDA, the insect, Alsophila pometaria, is harmless to humans, but its droppings can be a nuisance and the worms descend to the ground on silk strands where they burrow in the ground and emerge as moths.

Historically, large cankerworm outbreaks tend to collapse after two or three years because of the impact of several natural factors, including disease and predation by birds and other insects. However, populations in eastern Jefferson County have been building the last two seasons and a more widespread West Virginia outbreak is a possibility, according to the WVDA.

“We don’t want our area to look like a dead mountain,” Campbell said. “No one wants to see that, not residents, not tourists.”

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One Response to Bug to blame for Shannondale’s loss of tree cover

  1. Good, informative article on the nasty situation. I would point out that the issue isn’t just a Shannondale problem. The entire Blue Ridge hillside and many areas in the flatlands were affected this past Spring. The meeting on September 20th promises to be very informative.

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