Officials from Maine towns infested with browntail moths are urging state lawmakers to help them fight the invasive pest.
At a public hearing in front of the Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee on Tuesday, Travis Kennedy of Cumberland County government says a bill that would fund research at the University of Maine is the best bet to identify effective methods of control.
“Absent better solutions, the problem will only get worse. And make no mistake, Maine is in this alone. The rest of the country remains blissfully unaware that these creatures even exist,” he says.
Browntail moth caterpillars shed toxic hairs that remain potent for several years, causing itchy rashes and, if ingested, respiratory issues. Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore says as the moth’s populations have increased in recent years, municipalities are desperate for an effective method to control infestations and provide residents some relief.
“People are staying in their homes. People are coming to town hall and lifting their shirts up and showing us the rashes that they’re going through. They’re showing up at meetings, and there’s really nothing that we can offer them,” he says.
Towns along the south and midcoast have the most severe infestations, but the population is spreading inland.
“Year by year, the caterpillar’s range is growing. Creeping not only up the coast but inland as well. I understand that this year, webs have been spotted in Penobscot County,” says bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Denise Tepler.