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LePage, Task Force outline Maine’s budworm strategy

Lepage at news conference

Gov. Paul LePage with (back row from left) Rep. Russell J. Black, R-Wilton; Walt Whitcomb, commissioner of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Department; Doug Denico, director, Maine Forest Service; Dave Struble, state entomologist, Maine Forest Service; Patrick Strauch, executive director, Maine Forest Products Council; Robert Wagner, director, Cooperative Forestry Research Unit, University of Maine, and Sen. James F. Dill, D-Penobscot.

Gov. Paul R. LePage and the Maine Spruce Budworm Task Force today released recommendations about how to respond to the upcoming spruce budworm infestation on March 16 in Augusta.

“Coming Spruce Budworm Outbreak: Initial Risk Assessment and Preparation & Response Recommendations for Maine’s Forestry Community” and other materials are available at http://sprucebudwormmaine.org.

“We are on the verge of another spruce budworm epidemic and our goal is to lessen its damage,” Gov. Paul LePage said at a news conference in the Cabinet room.

There was extensive coverage of the report’s release, including:

Spruce budworm defoliation in Quebec 2015.

Spruce budworm defoliation in Quebec 2015.

The eastern spruce budworm is believed to be the most damaging forest insect in Maine and North America. Outbreaks kill balsam fir and spruce trees every 30 to 60 years. The Province of Quebec has been mapping defoliation from this pest for more than a decade. In 2015, 15.6 million acres of Quebec’s forests were defoliated. Significant defoliation occurred south of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The infestation already has spread into New Brunswick.

“Severe defoliation is within 50 miles of Maine’s border,” said Dave Struble, state entomologist. “We are at the start of an outbreak. We don’t know how bad it will be or exactly where, but we are seeing a build-up of budworm populations here.”

The budworm task force was formed in 2013 to determine the economic and ecological effects another outbreak might have on the state and a strategy to minimize those effects. Leading the collaborative effort are Robert Wagner, director of the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit (CFRU) at UMaine; Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, and Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service.

Task force teams, composed of leading experts on budworm and Maines forest resources, focused on wood supply and economic impacts; monitoring and protection; forest management; policy, regulatory and funding; wildlife habitat; communications and outreach; and research priorities. A draft report of their findings was released for public review in November 2014 and presented to municipalities, environmental groups, the legislature, logging contractors and economic development consortiums.

Spruce budworm has moved to within 50 miles of Maine's border.

Spruce budworm has moved to within 50 miles of Maine’s border.

“It’s like having a hurricane moving toward us from offshore,” Wagner said. “We know it is there, how it behaves and the kind of damage it can do. We can hope that it misses us, but if we don’t prepare for the worst, shame on us.”

The report includes about 70 recommendations on preparing for the outbreak, including increasing monitoring efforts, applying pesticides where appropriate, changing forest management strategies such as harvesting, and seeking ways to pre-salvage trees that likely would be lost.

“The budworm threat remains the same, but a lot of other things have changed,” Strauch said. “Our industry is governed by the Forest Practices Act now; pesticides are highly regulated and far more expensive, and there’s much less state and federal funding available. So the landowner community will need to figure out the best path forward. This report provides a framework to help landowners make good decisions.”

Denico, who has vivid memories of the last infestation, said he and other members of the task force are determined that this outbreak won’t take the state by surprise as the last one did. By 1975, not only Maine, but “the entire region from Ontario to Newfoundland was involved in the largest spruce budworm outbreak ever recorded.” (The Spruce Budworm Outbreak in Maine in the 1970’s.

In Maine, budworm destroyed up to 25 million cords of spruce-fir wood — 21 percent of all fir trees in the state, according to Maine Forest Service reports. Millions of dollars were spent on the “Battle of the Budworm,” as it was called, and the infestation cost the state’s forest-based economy hundreds of millions. It also had lasting effects on Maine forest management.

“We were there, in the battle,” Denico said. “We remember and we’ve made a commitment that we won’t be unprepared this time.”

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