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Tiny shoreline group demands township take action against invasive bugs

Group says European gypsy moth created many hot summer days for those living beside township's beaches
The gypsy moth lays its eggs during late summer and early fall. The eggs will hatch the following spring. Photo supplied by Severn Sound Environmental Association.

Tiny's shoreline residents are taking up arms against a bug and pointing fingers at a local environmental association and the county.

Their fight is against the invasive species European gypsy moth and they want the township to employ aerial spraying of Btk to take care of the situation.

"Taxpayers really felt their quality of life was affected by the gypsy moth," said Lynne Archibald, secretary of the Federation of Tiny Township Shorelines Associations, told council at a recent meeting about information gathered from a member survey.

"They had incredible heat because their trees didn't have any leaves left and they couldn't sit outside because of moths flying around and caterpillars falling from trees."

The group wants the municipality to reconsider its spray waiver requirement, which prevents individual land owners from spraying own properties, unless they have a go-ahead from their neighbours. 

"We have trees suffering from high water and Emerald Ash Borer," said Archibald. "If we let the trees die, we have the issue of having a number of dead trees around and it could be potential litigation for the township. We need these trees around."

But Coun. Gibb Wishart brought a concern to the table.

"I am somewhat sympathetic to spraying but the safety for other caterpillars, timing is absolutely critical," he said. "We're talking about small temperature changes that can allow other caterpillars we want to come forth at the same time. It's not as simple as having the plane come in and do the job."

But Archibald said Btk isn't harmful to human beings, animals or other species.

According to a Government of Canada websiteBacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki, commonly referred to as Btk, is a bacterium found naturally in soils. For some 30 years it has been used successfully world-wide as a biological pest control agent to combat a variety of forestry and agricultural insect pests.

The page further says, "Btk in its various formulations can be applied using both ground and aerial spray methods. Aerial spraying may be used in forestry and urban areas to ensure adequate coverage and effectiveness."

And that's what Archibald said Tiny residents are asking their council members to consider and approve.

The problem, she said, is bigger than it has been made out to be by the County of Simcoe and Severn Sound Environmental Association (SSEA).

She said the SSEA has provided incorrect information.

"They were misleading when they talked about Btk," said Archibald. "It is classified as a pesticide but it's a naturally occurring bacteria. It concerns people when they hear it's pesticide. This is just a naturally occurring bacteria sprayed onto the leaves. The other thing is that it kills native caterpillar species, which it would if there were any others out at the same time as gypsy moth caterpillars." 

As well, she said, "The SSEA told people it affects the food web, which is flat out incorrect."

Moreover, Archibald said, the SSEA refer to a natural virus and the fungus, which could lead to the decline of the Gypsy Moth, but provide no data on how many caterpillars have been affected by it. 

"I think we feel a little frustrated that the SSEA says it's got anecdotal evidence but there's been no actual scientific data collection," she added. "Residents are frustrated and they would just really like the township to commit to spraying."

Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma, who represents the township on the SSEA board, came to the non-profit's defence. 

"That Btk affects the food web and you don't agree with it, you're looking at it from a human perspective," he said. 'Gypsy moths have been around for many years and they've become a part of the food web for wildlife. So it will have an effect. I'm not suggesting it would be a huge one, I don't know it." 

As for spraying the pesticide, he said the township would need a second opinion.

"As of right now, all of our experts on the matter have suggested this isn't the way to go," said Walma. "We've been an environmentally focused community and our experts suggest this isn't the way to go. So until I see something to the other effect, I can't support this."

Tamara Brincat, invasive species program coordinator, SSEA, provided a comment to MidlandToday

"The SSEA is a science-based organization," she said. "We reach out to other scientists and subject matter experts when developing our positions and information materials.

"The SSEA continues to do research and actively work with experts, including foresters and forest entomologists, partnering organizations and other members of the scientific community, to provide information and updates on the European Gypsy Moth outbreak. As more scientifically-based mapping and data becomes available, we will continue the discussion with our municipalities regarding the management of Gypsy Moth."

Archibald found some support in Coun. Gibb Wishart.

"As it happens, I don't think the gypsy moth caterpillars are key to the food web because there are years that there are absolutely none," he said. 

But Archibald's beef wasn't only with the SSEA. She said the County of Simcoe mapping of the areas affected by the gypsy moth is inadequate.

"There are gypsy moths all over the township. We don't know the methodology of how the mapping was done but they missed a lot of areas," she noted. "The county seems to be doing some science, but it seems spotty."

The County of Simcoe forester could not be reached for comment, however, the corporate website says egg mass sampling was completed in the fall of 2019 to assess the population level of the insect. Monitoring of this species will continue in 2020 and will provide updated mapping of impacted areas.

Tim Leitch, director of public works and acting chief administrative officer for the township, said they've been working closely with the county and SSEA.

"We rely on their expertise," he said. "The mapping is something they're working on. We don't have a firm date for when that will be done."

Leitch said the cost of aerial spryaing would be substantial.

"We have heard some pricing down in Toronto, I think it was close to $470/acre," he said. "Tiny Township has 85,000 acres of property between private and public, so once we get the mapping, we can look at the costs.

"It's going to be a lot of money. We're keeping a close eye on it. We just want to make sure our decisions moving forward are responsible decisions and respectful of the parties that do want spraying and don't want spraying."