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Tyrone Borough Council approves $120k gypsy moth spraying on watershed property

Tyrone Borough Council held a special meeting last evening to address the proposed $120,388.80 gypsy moth spraying on its 4,000 acre watershed property on Ice Mountain. Council approved the project by a seven to one vote, with Councilperson Steve Hanzir the sole member in opposition.
Low bidder Ag Air, LLC out of Dover, PA, will spray approximately 3,400 acres of the watershed in attempt to eliminate a gypsy moth problem that borough consulting forester, Paul Noll of Noll’s Forestry Services, Inc. in Loretto, PA, feels could have a domino effect that would spread into Reservoir Park and the Tyrone community.
The borough has already set aside $125k in this year’s budget for the spraying. It’s water department fund currently holds roughly $650k, including what is in the present budget. A vote on the project was deemed necessary due to the time frame needed to prepare the “Bt” or “Bacillus thuringiensis” pesticide, and to spray the gypsy moths at the right time.
Bt is a natural organism found at low levels in soils throughout the world. It works by secreting one or more toxins after being ingested by an insect. The toxins are often specific to a family of insects. It appears not to harm humans or other life forms except for the intended targets.
Noll, along with PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Bureau of Forestry representative Mike Nelson, informed council of why the gypsy moth spraying was necessary and what would happen if it was left astray.
Noll said that the overall health of the forest and land on the watershed was “good,” but he noted that there are issues that need to be addressed such as invasive species, regeneration, and gypsy moths. Back in the 1980’s, the majority of the watershed was defoliated by gypsy moths, but the majority of timberland releafed.
He stated several reasons why the forest recovered, which included that the trees might have only been eaten off one year due to the gypsy moth population considerably decreasing, and that the forest might have received enough rainfall to get the trees to leaf back. Ninety percent of the trees will releaf after being eaten off only one year.
“There may have been some major or minor mortality in areas,” said Noll. “These dead trees were probably removed when the timber was harvested in the early 1990’s.”
According to Noll, the gypsy moth egg mass count is extremely high in some areas on the watershed. A healthy mass could have 500 to 1,000 eggs in it. He said that if spraying is not done to stop the trees from being defoliated in back to back years, the mortality could be “very high,” which would cause an “astronomical domino effect.”
The result of that domino effect could include soil erosion, millions of dollars in future timber revenue lost, and the aesthetics of the countryside would be replaced by mostly invasive species. Wildlife would also suffer the consequences. If the trees die, a salvage cutting would have to take place where roads and landings would be built on the watershed.
“This is something I think you need to worry about big time,” stated Noll to council. “I’m giving you reasons why to spray, because I don’t think you’ll like what you’ll see.”
Council agreed with Noll. Mayor James Kilmartin and Councilperson Jim Grazier drew from personal experience what kind of devastating effects the gypsy moth problem had on Tyrone in the 80’s.
“I remember growing up on Janesville Pike when we had all those issues, and it was horrible,” said Kilmartin. “We had to hose them (gypsy moths) off our house, and I don’t want to see that happen again to our community.”
Grazier recalled when the gypsy moth problem was at its peak in the 80’s, people were cautious of walking through Reservoir Park because of potential slipping and falling from all the splattered gypsy moths covering the ground.
The PA Game Commission does not have plans to spray the gypsy moths this summer, but the PA Bureau of Forestry will spray tens of thousands of acres throughout PA. County Conservation Districts decide what area to spray and Blair County will only be spraying around housing developments this year, which is why the borough must foot the bill.
Councilperson Hanzir, who voted against the project, stated that he wasn’t against the revitalization of the watershed, but he questioned the cost and success of the spraying when the borough will likely have to spray again next year, and perhaps the following two years after that.
“It’s just a lot of money to spend when we neglect the downtown,” said Hanzir. “We’ve ignored the watershed since it was logged in the 90’s, one more year to see what’s going on and a little more studying wouldn’t hurt.”
He added, “To rush into a special meeting just because you have a one month window now, when you haven’t worried about it for the last 10 years, to me is silly.”
Hanzir also brought up Gamesa’s proposed 10 to 15 turbine wind farm on the watershed. He said that the “uproar” about the windmills is disturbing the forest by bringing machinery in, which Gamesa promises will be minimal. But, he said that spraying the gypsy moths on the mountain will bring in bulldozers and skid steers to spray chemicals.
“Everybody makes a big deal about the windmills, which are green,” noted Hanzir. “This is spraying chemicals, tearing down trees, and running heavy equipment in the watershed.”
Noll added, “Many people think the placement of wind towers on the top of the mountain will look bad. There will be no comparison to how bad the mountain will look in the middle of the summer if the trees all die.”
Councilperson Jennifer Bryan agreed with Noll, stating, “We can’t let our forest go.”
The watershed property has its problems, but it also has potential, according to Noll. Borough Water Department Superintendent Gary Barr told council that the watershed will need close to $750k of work put into it over the next 15 years to help progress the property.
Ag Air, LLC will begin spraying for gypsy moths on the watershed property by middle to late May.