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Gypsy moth spraying

Crowd's appeals haven't yet stirred state agriculture department

Sharon Heights will be treated for destructive moth in the spring

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Despite impassioned pleas from Clintonville residents who love their trees and love their bees, aerial treatment using a biological insecticide to slow the spread of gypsy moths remains scheduled in mid-May for the Sharon Heights area.

"Right now, the project's still a go," David S. Adkins, gypsy moth program manager for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the day after a well-attended open house was held at the Park of Roses shelter house.

"We will review all the comments that were submitted and so forth," Adkins added. "I don't know how much of it was really on fact. We've been doing this for 15 years now and we've had good success."

Dozens of people from throughout Clintonville as well as the Sharon Heights neighborhood turned out for the open house. They pleaded with department representatives to delay the spraying or use a different control approach, one that poses less of a lethal threat to other creatures.

"This is the home of organic gardening, of people who care about the environment," resident Rich Fowler said as he waited his turn to share his views with Brian Burke of the Division of Plant Health. "We don't want someone coming into our neighborhood and crop-dusting us. I hope to send a strong message that we don't want to be sprayed."

"I understand their concerns," Adkins said. "They're looking at the tree; we're looking at the forest. I'm sorry their area is infested, but we've got to look out for the larger area and prevent the spread of the infestation."

The gypsy moth is one of North America's most devastating forest pests, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Accidentally introduced into the U.S. via Boston around 1868, the moth that feeds on the foliage of hundreds of species of plants has been spreading ever since.

"This insect does its damage by defoliating the tree during its caterpillar life stage," a Jan. 29 letter from Adkins to Sharon Heights residents regarding the open house states. "A couple of years of defoliation and other environmental stresses can cause trees to die. With over 300 species of trees and shrubs that can be affected, it is considered one of the most destructive insects threatening our forest and ornamental plants in Ohio."

Peter Kovarik, an entomologist and researcher who teaches at Columbus State Community College, attended the open house.

He said he grew up in Connecticut, and that people there learned a naturally occurring virus wipes out the gypsy moth population from time to time. It would be wiser, he insisted, to simply let nature take its course.

"It's cyclical," Kovarik said.

Others insisted the pockets of wilderness in and around Clintonville are so isolated, anything that disrupts efforts to preserve and restore these areas could have long-lasting negative effects.

"We usually don't get this kind of turnout at an open house," Burke said about 40 minutes into the gathering.

He gave a presentation and tried to explain the reasoning behind the intended use of BTK, a naturally occurring bacterium found in soils across Ohio that has insecticidal properties, according to one of the handouts distributed at the meeting.

One of three gypsy moth programs in the state is geared to stop the insect's spread to southeastern counties where it is not yet present, Burke told the crowd.

This area encompasses 100 kilometers, he said.

Traps in various wooded areas are checked, and several in Sharon Heights, Worthington Hills, Tanager Woods and other neighborhoods reached levels in the past two years that triggered the planned aerial spraying effort.

"We have low-level infestations," he said.

BTK does pose a threat to other moth-like creatures, including some butterflies, but Burke said the vast majority of these are not in a stage of development in which they can be harmed at the time the gypsy moth spraying is planned.

When those assembled pressed Burke for the name of the person who would ultimately make the decision on the Sharon Heights project, he named Adkins.

Mere moments later, Burke's work cellphone rang.

"Hello, David," he said.

After a few minutes of conversation, he hung up and told the audience that Adkins was at another, less-attended open house but was on his way to join them.

Adkins, who said he wasn't all that surprised by the turnout at the Clintonville open house, said the opponents' arguments had so far not changed his mind.

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