The town of Yarmouth is considering a resolution that would ask the Maine CDC to declare the browntail moth a public health nuisance. File / Portland Press Herald

YARMOUTH — The town is considering a resolution that could lead to aerial spraying to control browntail moth, including spraying private property.

The Town Council is scheduled to take up a resolution at its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 19 that would ask the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention to declare the browntail moth a public health nuisance, which would give Yarmouth more leeway in how it addresses the invasive pest.

Although effective, aerial spraying can be expensive and may require a more regional approach, but Town Manager Nate Tupper believes that Yarmouth will not be the only local community interested in the prospect.

“I don’t know if Yarmouth (will be) the first, but I’m confident it won’t be the only” one to approach the Maine CDC, Tupper said this week.

Meanwhile, Karyn MacNeill, director of Yarmouth Community Services, said there’s enough money left over from funds the town set aside for the spring spraying program for further applications this fall, if necessary.

In addition to $25,000 from the town’s tree fund, private residents also held a fundraiser this past spring to support a more aggressive and widespread spraying program.

The issue with the browntail moth is that the caterpillar is not only destructive to trees, but its hairs are also hazardous to human health and can cause severe skin rashes and breathing difficulties. Once confined to coastal areas, the moths are moving inland at a rapid rate.

A concentrated effort this past spring to attack the infestation on public land in core areas of town appears to have had a positive impact, however.

MacNeill said Yarmouth Community Services hired Hughes Arbor and Land Management of Freeport to conduct the spraying program in the spring. She said more than 50 locations were treated, including Royal River Park, the Village Green, the school campus and Sandy Point Beach.

“(W)e aimed to treat the highest-quality and highest-valued trees along the major walking and biking routes” in town, she said. In addition, the town also worked to treat affected trees with pruning and root injections.

Conserve SC pesticide was used in many areas in early May, according to MacNeil, then in April “we treated the trees systemically through the roots with Acephate. I think all the treatments combined took its toll on the health of the browntail moth.”

MacNeill said whether the town conducts any additional spraying or root injections in spring 2020 would be up to the council.

In the meantime, she urged residents to use caution this fall when doing yard work.

“The toxic hairs (from browntail moth caterpillars) last multiple seasons and can possibly affect our residents before, during, and after fall yard cleanups,” MacNeill said.

It was in summer 2018 that area towns first discussed the possibility of taking a more regional approach to combating the winged pest.

Coastal towns in northern Cumberland County have been battling the infestation on their own for the past several years, but the browntail moth continues to spread and impact more and more people every year. That’s why about a year ago a group of local town managers got together to see if a more regional approach could be more effective.

Managers from Falmouth, Freeport, Cumberland, Yarmouth and Brunswick met in late July 2018 along with Cumberland County Manager Jim Gailey and representatives from the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

It was there that the suggestion to declare the browntail moth a public health nuisance was first raised, according to a prior interview with Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore.  At that time he said the discussion was preliminary and no community had yet committed to any common course of action.

However, Poore said last year that a public health declaration would be critical to getting approval from the state for any aerial spraying.

The resolution being considered by the Yarmouth Town Council would first go to the Maine CDC for action. It would then be up to the Maine Forest Service to approve any aerial spraying and to decide where such spraying would be most effective.

The proposed resolution says that the “outbreak of browntail moth nesting has been a significant public health hazard and concern for the past several years, and … the potential for a continuation of the outbreak in the spring of 2020 continues to present a significant concern for human health, as well as to the health and survival of many trees and forest areas in an around Yarmouth.”

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