Predicted moth damage now visible in local forests

by Kate Shunney

Forestry and ag officials earlier this year warned of more severe impacts from a second year of spongy moth infestation in Morgan County and their predictions have come true.

Local residents and property owners are now seeing hardwood trees stripped of their leaves as spongy moth caterpillars eat their way through oaks, hickories and just about any other hardwoods they come by.

Caterpillars have attached to houses and tree trunks by the tens of thousands, even in areas that were sprayed on Mother’s Day weekend.

Properties on Cacapon, Sleepy Creek Mountain and Sideling Hill have been treated to stop the progress of the spongy moths, but the caterpillars have outnumbered the sprayers.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture has said trees are vulnerable to dying if they were defoliated by the caterpillars last year or have other tree diseases. Large swaths of forest along county roads went from spring green to brown in the last several weeks.

Property owners can physically remove the caterpillars and dispose of them, can place a band of folded fabric or sticky material around the trunk of trees to catch the caterpillars before they get to the crown of the tree to eat the leaves, but all of these steps are labor intensive and make minimal impact on the population of spongy moths, say tree experts.

A section of forested Cacapon Mountain shows the impacts of leaf-eating spongy moth caterpillars. Brown areas stand out on local mountainsides where trees have lost their spring leaves already.