February 9, 2023

Gov. LePage, Task Force outline Maine’s strategy against budworm

Press Release from Gov. LePage:

AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul R. LePage and the Maine Spruce Budworm Task Force today released recommendations about how to respond to the upcoming spruce budworm infestation.

“Coming Spruce Budworm Outbreak: Initial Risk Assessment and Preparation & Response Recommendations for Maine’s Forestry Community” and other materials are available at http://sprucebudwormmaine.org.

“We are on the verge of another spruce budworm epidemic and our goal is to lessen its damage,” Gov. Paul LePage said at a news conference in the Cabinet room.

The eastern spruce budworm is believed to be the most damaging forest insect in Maine and North America. Outbreaks kill balsam fir and spruce trees every 30 to 60 years. The Province of Quebec has been mapping defoliation from this pest for more than a decade. In 2015, 15.6 million acres of Quebec’s forests were defoliated. Significant defoliation occurred south of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The infestation already has spread into New Brunswick.

“Severe defoliation is within 50 miles of Maine’s border,” said Dave Struble, state entomologist. “We are at the start of an outbreak. We don’t know how bad it will be or exactly where, but we are seeing a build-up of budworm populations here.”

The budworm task force was formed in 2013 to determine the economic and ecological effects another outbreak might have on the state and a strategy to minimize those effects. Leading the collaborative effort are Robert Wagner, director of the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit (CFRU) at UMaine; Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, and Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service.

Task force teams, composed of leading experts on budworm and Maine’s forest resources, focused on wood supply and economic impacts; monitoring and protection; forest management; policy, regulatory and funding; wildlife habitat; communications and outreach; and research priorities. A draft report of their findings was released for public review in November 2014 and presented to municipalities, environmental groups, the legislature, logging contractors and economic development consortiums.

“It’s like having a hurricane moving toward us from offshore,” Wagner said. “We know it is there, how it behaves and the kind of damage it can do. We can hope that it misses us, but if we don’t prepare for the worst, shame on us.”

The report includes about 70 recommendations on preparing for the outbreak, including increasing monitoring efforts, applying pesticides where appropriate, changing forest management strategies such as harvesting, and seeking ways to pre-salvage trees that likely would be lost.

“The budworm threat remains the same, but a lot of other things have changed,” Strauch said. “Our industry is governed by the Forest Practices Act now; pesticides are highly regulated and far more expensive, and there’s much less state and federal funding available. So the landowner community will need to figure out the best path forward. This report provides a framework to help landowners make good decisions.”

Denico, who has vivid memories of the last infestation, said he and other members of the task force are determined that this outbreak won’t take the state by surprise as the last one did. By 1975, not only Maine, but “the entire region from Ontario to Newfoundland was involved in the largest spruce budworm outbreak ever recorded.” (The Spruce Budworm Outbreak in Maine in the 1970’s).

In Maine, budworm destroyed up to 25 million cords of spruce-fir wood — 21 percent of all fir trees in the state, according to Maine Forest Service reports. Millions of dollars were spent on the “Battle of the Budworm,” as it was called, and the infestation cost the state’s forest-based economy hundreds of millions. It also had lasting effects on Maine forest management.

“We were there, in the battle,” Denico said. “We remember and we’ve made a commitment that we won’t be unprepared this time.”


Maine’s Projected New Infestation of Spruce Budworm and the Effect on Wild Game

According to Bob Wagner, a forestry professor at the University of Maine, and found in an article in the Bangor Daily News, Maine stands in line for another round of the infestation of the spruce budworm. This worm is a defoliating machine, that during its last war on Maine and the eastern provinces of Canada, it cost these areas millions of dollars in economic losses and the resulting efforts to minimize the effects left the state with hundreds of thousands of acres of clear cuts, done to salvage what timber they could while it was worth something. I’m not sure we have yet to fully understand what happened from the tens of thousands of gallons of insecticide dumped on those forests and what long term effects it may have had on plants, animals and humans.

The questions are already beginning to mount up as to what another round of spruce budworm will do. As an example, one question I have received is what effect this will have on the Canada lynx. I wish I knew. I don’t. I can speculate but mostly just ask questions.

A report I read yesterday in the Bennington Banner said that Canada lynx were on the increase in Northeast Vermont.

The lynx’s favored prey is the snow hare, abundant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, which also provides the dense forests with a conifer mix where lynx thrive, Maghini said.

History has shown that the Canada lynx will follow the growth and decline of the snowshoe hare. It has been said that the forest clear-cuts from the early-70s into the mid-80s ended up providing ideal habitat for the snowshoe hare. When the hare appeared, so did the Canada lynx. What many surmise is that when the hare disappears, due to loss of ideal habitat, so will the lynx.

So, what will another round of budworm infestation do to the Canada lynx? I suppose with this question, and many more, it much depends upon the severity of the outbreak. One can surmise that if it is true that the last infestation collaterally provided ideal snowshoe hare habitat, in the short term dealing with the worm may have negative effects on the Canada lynx and snowshoe hare, but in the long term, once again we may see the return of ideal habitat for these two creatures.

Another question I was queried about had to do with the moose. Again, my guesses might be similar to those of the Canada lynx and snowshoe hare. Moose seem to thrive in those clear-cuts as they begin to regrow. The plant life available make for a decent diet and the moose generally like open spaces near denser forests.

Presently, the issue that seems to be front and center for moose is the darn winter moose tick. What effect, if any, will a round of spruce budworm have on the winter tick? From my own research, which doesn’t seem to agree with the mainstream and officials accounts, is that the number one determining factor in the severity of ticks ending up on moose, is windy weather. During the time of late summer and early fall the ticks climb vegetation where they will attach themselves to a passing moose. Wind will knock the tick off the vegetation, the result being fewer ticks on moose and fewer ticks that will survive through the winter. Will more clear-cut forests expose ticks to more wind?

Another moose issue that isn’t being talked about is the presence of lungworm, so-called, which in reality is cystic Echinococcus granulosus, or hydatid cysts. Moose are a secondary host of the tiny worm. The worms, from wild canines, are ingested by the moose, resulting in the cysts that appear mostly in their lungs and other organs, i.e. liver, brain, etc. Will a round of spruce budworm increase, decrease, or have no effect on the population of wild canines, therefore having an increase or decrease in moose contracting the cysts? The cysts in moose organs does not necessarily directly kill the moose but can severely limit the animal’s ability to escape predator danger.

Some have described the deer herd in Maine as “recovering” and even “exploding.” Pick whatever adjective you want that makes you feel good. The question that should be on every wildlife biologist’s and deer hunter’s mind is what would a severe round of spruce budworm infestation do to the deer herd? Like the moose, deer find good feed in 2, 3 and 4-year-old clear-cuts. However, too much cutting results in loss of habitat needed to survive the elements of the weather, escape predators, along with other factors involved in the normal everyday of a deer’s life.

It was reported not that long ago, that in 10-15 years, many of those forests that were stripped of trees from the first round of budworm will reach maturity. This is good news but now that we hear about another round of worms, what will become of these mature forests?

It is my opinion that any rebounding Maine has seen in its deer herd comes from 4 or 5 relatively mild winters, following the back to back tough ones that took out a lot of the herd. Would a drastic change in forest habitat coming at a critical time in trying to rebuild a deer herd be devastating to the herd….some more and again? How can we know?

Maine will, more than likely, be facing a referendum in November from radical environmentalists trying to stop bear baiting, bear trapping and hunting bears with hounds. This would effectively remove from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), their ability to use these tools to manage and control the bear population. Some fear that a successful referendum would result in an even greater yearly increase in bear numbers. Such an increase could have devastating effects on the struggling deer population; bears feed on deer fawns in the spring. We should also realize that if the moose herd is also struggling, an overgrown population of bears will reduce recruitment of calf moose and add to the problems. Too many bears present a host of public safety issues.

With all of this in mind, what would a spruce budworm attack do to the bear population? Would the increased vegetation and berry production, most always found in newly stripped out forests, create a spike in the bear population? Would there be a negative effect or none at all?

There are, of course, other issues to discuss concerning the predicted outbreak, i.e. what the environmental movement is going to have to say?; who pays for what to battle this infestation, to name a couple.

Mr. Wagner suggests that Maine start preparing now for the upcoming event. He’s probably right but how do you plan against this attack unless many of these questions were answered back in the 70s and 80s?