Lawmaker appeals to governor to fight gypsy moth defoliation

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For years, gypsy moth caterpillars have been eating away at the leaves of Rhode Island trees during summer months. Though the insects are harmless to humans, experts say it reduces shade, and worse, two or three years of consistent defoliation can kill trees outright.

It’s enough of a problem that House Minority Leader Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, has made a public appeal to the governor for the state to take action.

In short, she says Rhode Island needs to launch a statewide caterpillar eradication program.

Besides damaging the natural resources of forests, “defoliation could negatively impact property values for residents statewide, by causing irreparable damage to precious neighborhoods and recreational sites,” said Morgan in a statement Wednesday.

The lawmaker wrote a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, asking that a plan be developed immediately to save woodlands. Morgan said about half of the state’s 400,000 acres of forest suffered severe defoliation last year.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management says gypsy moth numbers have increased dramatically over the past years.

Earlier this week, University of Rhode Island entomologist Heather Faubert told WPRI.com if you’re trying to protect your trees on your own, the time is now to spray trees to guard against the caterpillars. Insecticides that kill only caterpillars are available, including Bacillus thuringiensis, variation kurstaki; consult your local garden center for suggestions. The caterpillars love oak, apple, birch, elm, and pine trees, as well as blueberry bushes.