Along with a recent visit by Santa and his reindeer, Surry County has been invaded by other flying visitors — ones not nearly as welcome and who aren’t bringing gifts, but threatening damage to area forests.
An infestation of gypsy moths has been detected along a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains which mainly includes Surry County — an area stretching from the Virginia line along the Blue Ridge Parkway south to U.S. 21 in the Roaring Gap vicinity.
A plan to spray the affected area by airplane has come to light, although a state agency dealing with the moth infestation indicates that no decision on treatment alternatives will be made until residents have a chance to comment at an upcoming public meeting.
Gypsy moths, which are so named partly because of their tremendous mobility, can cause the defoliation and subsequent death of trees such as oaks, as well as other negative effects — including harming the aesthetic beauty of the area and triggering allergic reactions in humans.
“This is pretty significant potentially for the entire region,” commented Eddie Harris, a member of the Surry Board of Commissioners, who is concerned not only from the standpoint of a county official but that of an affected landowner.
“Gypsy moths in the Blue Ridge area have the potential to do a tremendous amount of damage to our forest resources. A severe outbreak could cost homeowners and landowners thousands of dollars in tree removal as well as future lost timber value,” Harris pointed out.
“This doesn’t include the negative impacts on our scenic vistas and landscape that is so important to Surry County,” added Harris, a western Surry resident who is a homeowner in the Rich Hill Mountain area at the Surry-Alleghany County border.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Plant Industry Division is reaching out to property owners in Surry, Alleghany and Wilkes counties to inform them about the gypsy moth infestation and how it can be remedied. The treatment area includes 26,294 acres in all.
“They are going to spray by airplane an area from the Virginia state line to Roaring Gap, with the Blue Ridge Parkway being the center line of the spraying,” Harris said of a proposed treatment method. It would include one aerial treatment aimed at disrupting the mating of gypsy moths.
“Much of the spraying will be in Surry County from Lowgap to Devotion and on to the Thurmond-Roaring Gap area — basically the entire Blue Ridge,” Harris continued regarding the proposed plan. The territory involved includes the South District that Harris represents on the county governing board along with the Central District served by Commissioner Buck Golding.
The determination of gypsy moth infestation in a particular area primarily is based on the presence of male gypsy moths there, as indicated by the use of traps baited with the female gypsy moth sex pheromone.
Recent captures in the affected area suggest a potential for rapid growth of the moth population.
Gypsy moths are native to northern Africa, Europe and parts of Asia. The moth first invaded the U.S. in 1869 when it escaped from a laboratory in Medford, Massachusetts, where attempts were being made to cross it with native silkworm moths, according to information from the state agency.
Since that time, the insect has spread throughout the northeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. and into Canada.
“Apparently, these things hitchhike on cars … from up north,” Harris said.
A pilot project to reduce the colonization of gypsy moth populations in new areas was launched in 1992, known as Slow the Spread (STS). The pilot program became operational in 2000 and now is occurring in a 10-state area that includes North Carolina and Virginia.
The project uses techniques that are both environmentally safe and cost-effective, according to information from the state agency.
Harris said Wednesday that he is not concerned about the proposal to spray the affected area.
“I guess I trust the North Carolina officials to make the right decision and to use something that’s safe and effective for the people who live up there,” the county official said.
“I don’t know what they’re going to spray up there — but whatever it is apparently has a very long track record.”
Residents of Surry and the other two counties are invited to a public meeting scheduled by the state agriculture department on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Glade Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
The fire department is located at 6374 Glade Valley Road in Ennice.
In case of inclement weather on Jan. 7, an alternate date announced for the meeting is Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. A hotline can be called at 800-206-9333 on the day of the meeting if a postponement seems possible.
The session will allow staff members of the state agricultural department to provide information to the public about the gypsy moth infestation.
It also will involve a review of treatment alternatives available for the infestation and for citizens to offer their input.
The meeting format will provide adequate time for questions and public comments, organizers say.
They say no decision will be made on the treatment alternatives for the local infestation until residents of the area have had an opportunity to express their views through the public meeting. They are encouraged to attend, hear the information presented and air their comments.
Those unable to attend the meeting who need additional information on the gypsy moth infestation can contact the state Plant Industry Division at 800-206-9333 or 919-707-3730.
Resources also exist online at http://www.ncagr.gov/gypsymoth.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.