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City hires company to assess browntail moth infestations downtown

By Kendra Caruso | Jan 25, 2021
Source: File photo Browntial moth caterpillars.

Belfast — Hawkes Tree Services will assess trees in several Belfast locations inside the bypass for signs of severe browntail moth infestation. Councilors agreed Jan. 19 to pay the company up to $1,000 for an assessment.

The company will look at the Rail Trail, Harbor Walk, some city parks, certain stretches along Waldo, Northport and Lincolnville avenues, and Main, Front, Beaver and Union streets for signs of browntail moth-infested trees. Once the assessment is complete, Parks and Recreation Director Norm Poirier will come back to councilors to see what action they want to take on the infested trees.

City Councilor Mike Hurley said the moths are attracted to well-lit areas and he did not observe any infested trees along the Rail Trail, so he thought the city did not need to include it in the assessment. Councilor Mary Mortier said she had observed moths in trees along the Rail Trail and they also infest dimly lit areas.

City staff members tried pruning infested trees along the Rail Trail last year and broke out in a rash, so City Manager Erin Herbig will not ask employees to eliminate infestations this year, she said.

Councilors discussed using spray pesticides, injecting trees with pesticides and pruning to eliminate the moths. Hurley said he is not a fan of injecting trees because the injections are expensive and do not always yield results. Councilors were apprehensive about the estimate for the resulting work.

“It’s going to make our conversations of pruning and removing downtown trees look like kindergarten,” Mortier said.

Councilor Paul Dean said he does not support spraying or injecting trees anywhere in the city, but would support pruning.

Browntail moths are an exotic invasive species of caterpillar from Europe. They are harmless after metamorphosis, but the caterpillars' fine fiber hairs can cause rashes and respiratory issues if released into the air.

Hurley said he would like to find a way that the city can require private landowners to mitigate infestations on their properties. The city cannot remove nests on private properties, which could cause new infestations on city trees and cause people in nearby public spaces to break out in rashes.

Once the assessment is complete councilors will discuss possible action at a later meeting.

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