Watch for the Browntail Moth…a Health Hazard

This cute little guy is BAD NEWS.

Browntail moth is an invasive forest pest that continues to expand its range in Maine bringing with it human health impacts. Browntail moth is now present in Waldo County and other areas of the Midcoast. The larval stage (caterpillar) of this insect feeds on the foliage of hardwood trees and shrubs including:  oak, shadbush, apple, cherry, beach plum, and rugosa rose.  Larval feeding causes reduction of growth and occasional kills valued trees and shrubs.  While feeding damage may cause some concern,  the primary concern is the impact on humans from the  browntail moth is the result of contact with poisonous hairs found on the caterpillars.  Contact of these hairs with human skin causes a rash similar to poison ivy that can be severe on some individuals, and the hairs can cause breathing problems. 

Winter to early spring is an ideal time to control it by clipping and destroying its winter webs. Arborists can be employed to clip webs you cannot reach yourself. It can also be controlled through spraying or tree injection insecticides, at different times of the year. See the MFS website below for a list of certified pesticide applicators who can treat browntail moth infestations in your area.

Cocoons are small and are often found in groups at the ends of tree branches.
Skin rash from browntail moth

See the Maine Forest Service website for an overview of browntail moth, how to identify it, history in Maine and updates on current browntail range/ areas at risk. MFS also has information about management options and ways to mitigate human health impacts. If you think you have browntail moth infestation on your property in Waldo County, please inform the District or the Maine Forest Service.

This short video clip provides a brief overview:

More information:

Woodland Stewardship Series Continues – March and April Tours

Working with Your Woods:  Waldo County Woodland Stewardship Field Tours

Once the most common equipment in the woods, a small cable skidder, with a careful, skilled operator, is still a good option for sustainable harvesting.

Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation District and Maine Forest Service are continuing a series of short field tours to highlight forest stewardship and conservation in Waldo County. These events are open to landowners, foresters, loggers, and others interested in the stewardship of small woodlands, and offer a brief, two-hour opportunity for observation, questions, and discussion.

Wednesday, March 21th, 3:30-5:30 p.m. (note time change) – 133 N. Main St., Morrill. Our March event will be a post-harvest review of a fall 2017 logging operation – what was the plan, how did it work, what are the results? This operation with a chainsaw and small skidder contrasts with an earlier tour involving a cut-to-length harvest system. Planning is often critical to achieving the goals you have for your woodland and for the harvest itself – here we’ll look at things in retrospective. Forester and landowner will be present to provide context. Our hosts are the folks at Century Farm in Morrill, 133 N Main St (route 131, approximately 0.8 miles north of the village center/general store). Meet at the farm.

Save the date: Thursday, April 26th, 3-5pm. Tending the Forest – Which Trees Do I Cut? The heart of forestry is vegetation management or “silviculture” – deciding if, when, and which trees to remove, in a commercial or non-commercial harvest. But what if timber production is not a priority? We’ll start with understanding how different tree species live, how forests grow, what creatures live there – and consider options for actively managing the forest cover to promote non-timber and timber values of the forest. Then we’ll do a forest “marking” exercise, in a couple of locations. Foresters often mark trees to communicate which trees are to cut as part of harvest planning – here’s a chance to participate. Hint: it’s easier before the leaves come out! Location TBA. (This presentation will be a field follow-up to a 3/19 presentation at the Belfast Library: “What’s a Woodlot, and what do I do if I have one?”)

These events are free and open to the public. They will involve being outdoors/walking in the woods and will occur rain, snow, or shine, so please dress for field conditions. If driving is hazardous due to weather, please call to confirm. Parking is often limited, so please consider carpooling if you can. For more information contact Aleta McKeage, Technical Director of Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation District at 218-5311 or Morten Moesswilde, Midcoast District Forester with the Maine Forest Service, at 207.441.2895.

Nature Notes – Signs of Spring

Red osier dogwood in early spring

With a whole series of winter storms this March, you may have put off your hopeful search for signs of spring. Rest assured that there is plenty of spring activity taking place right now, though! March is a peak mating time for many mammals in Maine, and if you’ve heard strange screams and yowls from the woods, that is likely the source. Many of them are exiting winter sleeping spots and seeking mates and dens for raising young, and so a walk in any woods after our storms will yield plenty of signs of animal activity. Like me you’ve probably gotten a mood boost already from cardinals singing and perhaps the “peter, peter, peter, peter” of the tufted titmouse. At the end of this post (first in our new series Nature Notes), you’ll find some places to find out more about nature. One resource that anyone can enjoy is a new version of the classic pocket guide Track Finder, by Dorcas Miller (a Maine resident). It is packed with easy useful tools so that anyone can identify even vague tracks. I highly recommend it!

Plants are waking up too, which you know if you do any maple sugaring, because the sap is flowing. But take a look in roadside wet areas….you can see lots of new color, because twigs of some of our native plants are turning bright purple, red and yellow. One of my favorites is the red-osier dogwood, Cornus sericea (see picture), whose twigs become bright red with a pigment that reacts strongly to light. The sun is bright now, and no leaves are in the way so its twigs are at their brightest, and they are red year round, which makes it a great landscape plant that will brighten your yard or woodland edge in all seasons. Birds are very attracted to its berries, so it doubles as a wildlife habitat plant. Also brightening up right now are willow twigs turning yellow. These wild species are also plants you can landscape with. Both red-osier dogwood and pussy willow are available as part of our shrub sale this spring, in fact! It’s possible to add a few of these native plants to your woods edge, property border, wet areas, and pond edges and really beautify your landscape and attract wildlife. It’s also great to add plants that you will harvest fruit from, because they too offer habitat and beauty….highbush blueberry and elderberry come to mind.

Tufted titmouse

Some armchair nature study resources:

Track Finder: A Guide to Mammal Tracks of Eastern North America (Finders) by Dorcas Miller. New 2nd edition has a cover photo of a coyote.

To see common birds and listen to their calls, visit All About Birds. There is lots to do on this site, including watching feeder and nest cams!