Call it a sign of the gypsy moth.
Saanich residents living near Elk Lake can learn more next month about plans to spray the area from above to “eradicate a growing population of gypsy moth.”
The province has proposed to spray an area of 186 hectares at least three times between April 15 and June 30 and scheduled a public open house for Monday, Jan. 16 from 3-8 p.m. at the Howard Johnson’s banquet room, 4670 Elk Lake Drive, to answer any questions about the spraying.
One question likely high on the list is the nature of the pesticide — Foray 48B — that the province proposes to use.
“The biological pesticide we are using, Foray 48B, has extremely low toxicity to non-target organisms and is so low that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (Health Canada’s agency that regulates all pesticides in Canada) allows the current application over populated areas,” said Tim Ebata, forest health officer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
According to a provincial backgrounder, Foray 48B contains Bacillus thuringiensis var kurstaki (Btk), a natural substance present in urban, forest and agricultural soil that does not harm humans, mammals, birds, fish, plants, reptiles, amphibians, bees or other insects.
It only affects gypsy moth caterpillars after they have ingested it. Ottawa has approved the substance since 1961 and the Organic Materials Review Institute has recently approved it for organic farms.
“The spray formulation has been used world-wide for several decades over millions of people with no significant human health impacts,” said Ebata, adding Health Canada continually reviews any reports of adverse health effects. Following an aerial spraying of Foray 48B on southern Vancouver Island in spring of 1999, a study conducted by the then Capital Health Region found no adverse effects.
“Results to date show no apparent relationship between aggravation of asthma in children and aerial spraying of Foray 48B,” it read. “As well, no short-term health effects were detected in the general adult population nor in hospital emergency room visits.”
While some people self-reported symptoms which they attributed to the spray program, the study’s methods did not detect any changes linked to the spray program, it said.
“A single case was reported of a five-year-old child with previously diagnosed asthma whose symptoms worsened during the spray period,” it read. “It was not possible to conclude definitively whether this was the result of exposure to the Foray 48B spray or not.”
It is not clear when the spraying will take place. “Communicating the exact date and time a spray will occur is tricky,” said Ebata. “The spray will be conducted three times, spaced seven days apart, and a spray day could be cancelled due to poor weather and rescheduled for the next suitable morning, and so our messaging will have to be updated frequently,” he said.
Signs on the Pat Bay Highway, email and social media will inform the public, he added.
The hired contractor will either use a twin-engined airplane or a helicopter and the estimated treatment cost is $200,000, Ebata said.
If left untreated, the moths could spread to new areas of the province via vehicles, containers, rail and the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, a development with potentially devastating consequences for the provincial forest industry.
“The long-term benefit [of the spraying] is the protection of B.C.’s forests from a defoliating insect that has devastated forests in Eastern Canada and the U.S.,” said Ebata. “Its favourite host in B.C. — oak and Garry oak — would be highly susceptible to damage. This is the most endangered forest ecosystem in Canada. From an economic perspective, keeping Vancouver Island and B.C. gypsy moth free means that we will have unrestricted access to U.S. markets – until they too are overwhelmed by gypsy moth crossing over from Canada.”