A volunteer collecting ticks for the University of Maine Forest Tick Survey in 2020. The project is looking for more wooded landowners to volunteer for this year. Courtesy photo Elissa Ballman

ORONO — The University of Maine Tick Forest Survey’s 2020 results showed that Cumberland County ticks had some of the highest rates of Lyme disease pathogens, but research is continuing this summer.

The ongoing study seeks to understand the relationship between forest management practices and tick-born pathogens, Elissa Ballman, the project’s citizen science coordinator, said. In 2020, 116 wooded landowners volunteered, 16 of which were spread throughout Cumberland County.

Volunteers collected over 1,600 ticks, said a press release from UMaine. Researchers tested 445 of the collected ticks, all of which were blacklegged tick nymphs, for pathogens.

Ballman said the blacklegged tick, commonly called the deer tick, primarily seen in Coastal and Southern Maine, is the species most responsible for human tick-born diseases.

More than 25 percent of the nymphs tested in 2020 carried the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease, the release said. While all nine counties tested positive for the pathogen, the highest rates were located in Cumberland and Hancock Counties.

A blacklegged tick adult (left) and nymph (right). Many people refer to blacklegged ticks as deer ticks. Courtesy photo Griffin Dill

The purpose of the project is to understand the relationship between forest management practices and tick-born pathogens, Ballman said.

“We found that properties that had a timber harvest anytime in the last 20 years had significantly fewer blacklegged ticks than those properties that haven’t had a timber harvest in over 20 years, so that was really interesting to find out that even having a timber harvest 19, 20 years ago still had an impact on the tick population,” she said.

Research found that properties with invasive plant species such as honeysuckle or bittersweet had significantly more blacklegged ticks than properties without invasive plants, Ballman said.

“It kind of just goes to show that how you manage your property really can have an impact on your risks of encountering ticks and tick-born diseases,” she said.

The team hopes to create recommendations based on the data for landowners to use, Ballman said.

“We’re hoping to develop recommendations and what people can do with their properties and their land to reduce their own personal tick-born disease risk,” she said. “We’re looking at everything with timber harvesting and invasive plants, whether or not people feed wildlife, whether or not people put out bird feeders. We’re looking at how all these different land-managing activities impact ticks, so I think people will be interested in hearing what they can personally do to reduce their own tick-born disease risk on their properties.”

Ballman said the researchers are looking for more landowners to volunteer for this summer.

“We’re looking for people who have anywhere from five to 1,000 wooded acres of land in Southern and Coastal Maine,” she said. “We’re looking for a wide variety of different types of land management. So anything from, ‘I do absolutely nothing with my land and it is how it is,’ to people that do timber harvesting and everything in between.”

Landowners or people who venture into wooded areas in the spring, summer or fall should use caution and check themselves for ticks, Ballman said. If bitten, they should contact their doctor with any questions or concerns.

“They can be active in any climate above freezing,” she said. “In the spring we start to see a pretty big increase in tick activity. Right around July, the blacklegged nymphs are at their peak activity. This is the life stage that’s most responsible for human tick-born diseases because it’s really small so it tends to go unnoticed when it bites people. We also have another big peak in the fall, usually more of the adults.”

The Scarborough Pest Management Advisory Committee released an informational list that people can use to decrease the risk of tick bites www.scarboroughmaine.org/stay-connected/town-news/be-tick-aware!/. Some of these precautions advise residents to walk in the center of trails and shower within two hours after returning inside.

Ballman said she did not expect so many landowners to be interested in being a part of the UMaine project.

“I was surprised at how interested and excited people were to learn about what ticks and tick pathogens are on their properties,” she said. “We had over 300 people apply last year to be a part of this project.”

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