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Gypsy moths can cause extensive damage to forests. The quarantine will require the inspection of all wood products leaving the Lake and Cook counties. Photo courtesy of MDA.

Gypsy moth quarantine slated to begin in March

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Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

A proposed quarantine on wood products originating in Lake and Cook counties could go into effect as early as March 31.

The quarantine is intended to stop the spread of gypsy moths, a pest that already inhabits much of the northeastern region of the U.S. All of Michigan and most of Wisconsin have been quarantined, but Lake and Cook counties will be the first in Minnesota to be required to monitor its forest products for the moth.

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“It’s been moving its way through our forest habitat. It’s a defoliating insect which means that the caterpillars eat foliage,” said Lucia Hunt, the gypsy moth program supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

One caterpillar can eat its way through nine square feet of foliage – “multiply that by hundreds of caterpillars and it can be pretty severe,” Hunt said.

Gypsy moths were imported into Boston in the 1800s in an attempt to breed a better silkworm. Instead, the moths got loose and caused large-scale deforestation by the end of that century. Government programs began as early as 1890 to eradicate the invasive species – or at the very least, slow its spread.

Gypsy moths have been present in Minnesota since 1969, when eggs first appeared in Duluth. Since then, the MDA and its partners have tried to control the pest, first by trapping and later by applying treatments across the northeastern region of the state.

Though the treatments slowed the moth’s progress, they just aren’t working anymore, Hunt said.

“The populations have gotten so big that they are unmanageable by treatment,” she said. “We achieved our goal of slowing the spread.”

Some argue that gypsy moths are spreading despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to stop them, and that quarantines and treatments are unnecessary burdens that aren’t doing much good. Hunt argues that slowing the spread is worth the investment, even if gypsy moths can never be completely eradicated.

“The defoliation alone can impact the tourism and recreation industry, forest health, timber prices … there are a lot of things that are hinged on our forests,” she said.

The next step for Lake and Cook counties is the quarantine, which will affect business owners and residents. Companies that ship wood products out of the restricted area will be required to inspect and remove any signs of gypsy moths from the wood. Tourists and homeowners will also be asked to inspect outdoor items and mobile homes crossing county lines.

“We have a lot of susceptible habitat in Minnesota,” Hunt said. “We’d like to protect as much of our state as possible.”

Hunt said that the MDA has spent months researching how quarantines have affected businesses in other states, particularly Wisconsin. Wood-related businesses in Wisconsin adjusted quickly, and the paper milling industry is currently doing better than ever.

“We’ve definitely learned from their examples,” Hunt said. “We’ve worked with the industry … to provide the best management practices to working within existing frameworks to make sure the regulations aren’t burdensome.”

Companies will have to operate under compliance agreements, which will vary depending on the type of business and other factors.

Since the MDA hasn’t ironed out the compliance agreement details, Greg Hull isn’t sure precisely how the quarantine will affect his business, Hull’s Sawmill in Silver Creek. He processes much of the wood he ships out, but some is unprocessed and will need to be inspected and treated if it’s to leave the county. He said adding another regulation always makes business more difficult.

“It probably won’t be clear until I do it wrong,” he said. “They can go to big producers and talk to them, but what about mom-and-pop operations? It’s got a negative effect on small businesses because the bulk becomes onerous. You’re not able to actually work.”

Hunt said the MDA is trying to make the regulations as business-friendly as possible while still slowing the spread of gypsy moths.

“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We need the help and support of the community to make sure we aren’t spreading invasive species.

Comment on the quarantine Comments about the proposed gypsy moth quarantine will be accepted by the MDA from Jan. 27 - Feb. 25. Written comments can be sent to Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Gypsy Moth Quarantine Comments, 624 Robert St. N., St. Paul, MN 55155. They can also be emailed to gypsy.moth@state.mn.us.

Two public hearings will also be held during regular board of commissioner meetings.

Lake County hearing: Feb. 11, 2 p.m. at the Lake County Courthouse, 601 Third Ave., Two Harbors.

Cook County hearing: Feb. 25, 10 a.m. at the Cook County Courthouse, 411 W. Second St., Grand Marais.

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