North Carolina

Heart of wine country in North Carolina has a moth infestation threatening its trees

A gypsy moth caterpillar crawls along a partially eaten leaf, one reason they are considered a threat to the nation’s forests.
A gypsy moth caterpillar crawls along a partially eaten leaf, one reason they are considered a threat to the nation’s forests.

A North Carolina county that is home to some of the best known wineries on the East Coast has an infestation of gypsy moths and state biologists are taking action to save area forests and prevent health problems in the populace.

The infestation is around Surry County’s Dobson community, according to a release from the N.C. Department of Agriculture. That area, centered around the fertile Yadkin Valley, is “home to some of N.C.’s premier wineries,” according to Dobson-NC.com.

It “is often referred to as the ‘Napa of the East’,” according to wheretraveler.com. Among the wineries located there is Shelton Vineyards, “one of the biggest vineyards on the East Coast,” according to theculturetrip.com.

Experts say its trees and humans that face the biggest threat from the infestation, which can strip forests of leaves, kill trees, increase the risk of wildfires and add to runoff to waterways, according to the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture.

Treatments to thwart moth mating will begin June 6, using aircraft to disperse a pheromone that is not harmful to humans or other insects, state officials said. Just over 1,231 acres of the county will be treated, officials said.

“The presence of the pheromone makes male gypsy moths unable to follow the natural pheromone scent trails released by the females,” said a release from Whitney Swink, a state entomologist. “This decreases mating success.”

State officials say the treatments are necessary, because gypsy moths feed relentlessly on the leaves of 300-plus species of trees and shrubs.

“When areas become heavily infested, trees may be completely stripped of foliage, leaving yard trees and entire forests more susceptible to attacks from other pests,” the release said.

“Gypsy moth caterpillars can also pose public health concerns for people with respiratory problems. In areas with high-density gypsy moth populations, the caterpillar hairs and droppings may cause severe allergic reactions,” the release stated.

Gypsy moths are native to Europe and became one of the nation’s worst invasive species when some escaped enclosures in the Boston area during an 1869 storm, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

“Ever since, the gypsy moth has spread to the north, south, and west,” the department says.

Workers harvest pinot noir grapes at Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande, California, on a recent October morning as the Autumn grape harvest kicks into full swing.

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