The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry wants to expand a gypsy moth quarantine to cover the entire state, making it easier to ship shrubs and other forest products within state borders while still protecting other states that are largely gypsy-moth free.

If the proposed rule change is approved, the expansion would take effect June 1, said Gary Fish, Maine’s horticulturist.

“This would be a full state quarantine,” Fish said Wednesday. “The gypsy moth is an extremely damaging, devastating insect that can defoliate hardwood trees.”

A partial state quarantine has been in effect since 2010, forcing some shippers of logs, ornamental shrubs and other products to get a certificate denoting them free of the moths before shipping them to parts of the state that weren’t quarantined, as well as to moth-free states such as California and Minnesota. A statewide quarantine would allow shipments anywhere within the state without a certificate. Companies shipping a product to a gypsy moth-free state or to Canada would still need to get a state certificate. If implemented, Maine would join all other Northeast states, which have already enacted quarantines.

Fish said federal border patrol agents and inspectors from the federal Department of Agriculture would enforce the quarantine along Maine’s border with Canada.

Maine’s partial quarantine has been in effect since 2010. It covered everywhere in Maine except parts of Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis and Aroostook counties.

But at public hearings held last month in Ashland and Springvale, forest industry representatives asked for a full state quarantine rather than extending the partial one.

According to language in the rule change, the quarantine would cover trees without roots, trees with roots, shrubs with roots and woody stems, logs, pulpwood, bark and bark products as well as mobile homes and associated equipment.

Gypsy moths feed on oak, poplar, gray birch and fruit trees, according to a fact sheet posted on the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension Service website. Gypsy moth infestations are heaviest in central and southern Maine.

In addition to defoliating trees, the gypsy moth is considered a nuisance pest because caterpillars tend to wander. Tiny hairs from the caterpillars can irritate the skin of some people causing in some cases severe reactions such as rashes or itching, the cooperative extension said.

Comments can be forwarded to Fish at [email protected] or to the department’s fax number at 287-5576 by no later than April 26. So far, Fish said, the proposal does not appear controversial. Preventing the moth’s spread to states and Canadian provinces that are gypsy-moth free benefits everyone in the forest products industry, and the change would make it easier to ship forest products within Maine’s borders.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]