Bacterial Spraying of Moths Approved

Forest district OKs state plan
By John Chase
Tribune staff reporter

April 17, 2002

Despite the very real possibility it will kill thousands of native
butterflies, airplanes will soon begin spraying bacteria across the
western suburbs, including over several DuPage County forest
preserves, in an attempt to slow the spread of the tree-killing gypsy

On Tuesday, forest preserve commissioners gave state agriculture
officials the go-ahead to scatter the bacteria--called bacillus
thuringiensis, or BT--even though it kills the larvae of all kinds of
moths and butterflies.

The move comes despite environmental officials' fears about the
spraying. It also flies in the face of a decision made less than a
week ago by a DuPage Forest Preserve District committee to vote
against any aerial spraying of the bacteria in its preserves.

"I just think there are other options here," said Elizabeth Plonka,
who tracks butterflies for a regional butterfly monitoring
organization. "This bacteria is just such a broad thing and kills so
much. It seems extreme."

According to the state's plans, BT will be sprayed across 1,200 acres
of Forest Preserve District property as well thousands of other acres
in DuPage, including 150 acres in the middle of the Morton Arboretum
in Lisle. Other areas to be sprayed include sections of Batavia and
Geneva in Kane County and Palos Park in Cook County.

The spraying will occur in the first weeks of May as gypsy moth eggs
hatch and the gypsy moth caterpillars begin devouring tree leaves.
After that, the caterpillars form cocoons and become moths in late
summer, when they mate. The cycle is similar for most butterflies and
moths and those, too, will be killed because of the spraying, state
officials concede.

"If a caterpillar is feeding when we're spraying, it will die," said
Stan Smith of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

But Smith defends using the bacteria, arguing native moths and
butterflies will repopulate quickly, while the population of gypsy
moths, which originated in Europe and are alien to the U.S., will be
harder hit.

"When you have a large native butterfly species, they will be able to
rebuild their population within a year or so," Smith said. "We're not
spraying the entire county, only parts of it where we've discovered
high densities of gypsy moths. And this will make it much more
difficult for the gypsy moths to spread."

The moths have come to DuPage after making their way across the nation
over the last 150 years from the East Coast. Most recently, the moths
invaded Wisconsin and traveled south into Lake County, which is now so
infested it's quarantined for the pest. DuPage County has become the
newest battleground.

Eradication of gypsy moths is a goal no one believes is achievable.
Instead, when an area begins seeing infestations, the idea is to slow
the pest's spread, beat back local outbreaks and make sure the moths'
damage is not so swift it wipes out entire forest preserves or city
blocks of trees. The caterpillars do their damage by defoliating
trees, leaving them susceptible to fatal diseases.

The state plans to spray BT over thousands of acres in DuPage where
officials have seen the heaviest infestations, including parts of
Roselle, Downers Grove, Bloomingdale and a strip of land from Wheaton
to West Chicago. But the forest preserves, with their density of
trees, are considered most susceptible. The forest preserves to be
sprayed by BT include: Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook;
Lyman Woods in Downers Grove; Waterfall Glen, near Darien; and Meacham
Grove in Bloomingdale.

In addition, the state plans later in the summer to spray harmless
pheromone flakes over thousands of acres that aren't quite as
infested, including 4,000 forest preserve acres. The flakes, which
contain the scent of the female gypsy moth, work as a birth control
device by confusing the male moths, making them unable to find females
to mate.

Last week, the Forest Preserve District's Operations Committee voted
against the BT spraying but in favor of the pheromone flakes. That
opinion changed, though, after forest preserve officials were told by
the state that the two must be done in conjunction to be effective.

"They told us they weren't sure it was worth doing one treatment but
not the other," said Commissioner James Healy (R-Naperville), chairman
of the Operations Committee. "And when we were faced with the
possibility of doing nothing, and the resulting damage that would
mean, we had to allow the [BT] to be sprayed."

Still, Healy said he's not happy about it, adding that he still thinks
the BT might have lasting effects on the ecosystems where it's

"When you see a decrease in caterpillars, then do you see a decrease
in birds and flowers?" Healy asked. "The whole system is affected."

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