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Colorado Springs forester: One battle against moth infestation over, another possible

April 19, 2017 Updated: April 20, 2017 at 6:32 am
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Douglas-fir tussock moth. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

In the local fight between man and moth, man is claiming victory -- for the most part.

According to Colorado Springs assistant forester Dennis Will, the city's aerial spray attack last summer on pests invading popular recreation areas proved successful, based on survey maps from the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service. He does not expect a Tussock moth outbreak to return to North Cheyenne Cañon Park and Blodgett Peak Open Space this summer, when the insects have in recent years chewed away the needles on Douglas-fir and white fir trees, leaving them bare.

The city paid $64,385 to have a helicopter blast a pesticide over those two areas in late June as the Tussock moths, in a rare dual infestation, joined forces in high numbers with another defoliating pest common to the Front Range, the western spruce budworm.

"The Tussock moths got hammered," Will said. "I found like three live larvae, and they wouldn't even move. I touched them with my finger, and they just fell off the trees."

But other anecdotal evidence has him concerned about the budworms: He saw the moths buzzing about in North Cheyenne Cañon and Blodgett Peak Open Space in the days after the spray. That made him believe the timing of the city's attack may have been too late to catch the budworms in their larvae states; they typically hatch in late spring.

Will said the city could consider another spray over the two areas -- this time earlier in the season -- which he said would cost another $64,000. He did not consider the budworms to be a serious threat -- "a low order chronic problem," he said.

"As a professional forester I do want to eliminate that," he added. "As a steward for not only the city's forestry resources and for city money ... I just don't know. I'm sitting on the fence."

Meanwhile, phenomenons like January's windstorm and April's heavy snowstorm that pummeled trees in city neighborhoods has left them more susceptible this summer, said Tom Flynn with Front Range Arborists. "Wounds invite pests," he said.

He called sawflies "the ones to watch" -- pests that he's seeing locally for the first time in 20 years, he said, killing pines out on the Eastern Plains. He suspected they could move closer to the city.

But sawfly outbreaks are rare, said Michael Till of the Colorado State Forest Service Woodland Park District. Western spruce budworm continue to lurk in Teller County, but population levels "are nothing out of the ordinary as far as we can tell," he said.

According to the state service, Tussock moth outbreaks may cycle in areas every seven to 10 years. For now, Will feels the trees' beauty has been saved.

"They'll be in great shape," he said. "Now we're counting on May moisture."

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