WSDA to conduct Gypsy Moth spraying in parts of Graham

By Bruce A. Smith

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has announced that it will conduct a pesticide spraying program in selected neighborhoods in northern Graham to control a Gypsy Moth (GM) infestation. The spraying will commence in late April or early May, according to Mike Louisell, the Public Information Officer for the WSDA, and will consist of three aerial applications of a chemical pesticide known as BTK.

BTK is an acronym for Bacillus thuringensis.kurstaki and is well-known to pest control managers and organic farmers alike. The primary form of BTK is the base bacteria called Bacillus thuringensis, aka “Bt” which thrives naturally in soil and is lethal to many insects. It has been a mainstay for the organic control of garden insects for many years, and the “kurstaki” modification is a genetic addition to make the Bt specifically toxic to Gypsy Moths. In Gypsy Moths, the BTK attacks certain receptor sites in the intestine of the moths’ caterpillar stage.

To control Gypsy Moths, the WSDA uses an aerosol that contains the BTK in a foggy mix that will help the BTK stick to vegetation and resist subsequent rainfall. The targeted area in Graham has been identified as populated with Gypsy Moth eggs, and from those egg clusters a large contingent of GM caterpillars are expected to hatch this spring. After hatching, the caterpillars crawl to neighboring trees and consume the leaves voraciously. When the GM ingest the BTK their digestive system fails, and the GM population is prevented from spreading to other vegetated areas.

Gypsy Moths are not native to North America, but were introduced to the United States in the 1880s by entrepreneurs seeking to develop a Silk Worm-Gypsy Moth hybrid and launch an American silk industry. However, the Gypsy Moths escaped their initial control and are now endemic throughout the eastern seaboard. Where the GM have established permanent populations they have been able to decimate large swaths of forestland. Maryland reports its infestations have stripped over 30,000 acres of forestland in extreme years.

Since Gypsy Moths are not native to Washington State nor anywhere in the western United States, the WSDA is seeking to prevent the problems that have occurred in the eastern areas of the country. Over the past forty years the WSDA has conducted an active GM control program as GM eggs, larva, and adults have migrated across the United States, most notably in vehicles and lawn furniture traveling westward when residents from infected states relocate or simply visit.

Gypsy Moths are known to feed on over 500 species of trees and shrubs. Locally, GM will most commonly feed upon alders, fruit trees, and spruce.

In addition to mailing 12,000 postcards to local residents, representatives of the WSDA came to the Graham area in February to inform folks on what to expect from the GM spraying. Despite the long-standing use of Bt and its benign status as the best means of controlling Gypsy Moths, several Grahamites were concerned about the proposed spraying.

The state is overzealous,” Barbara M. told the Mountain News. “We don’t have a problem with Gypsy Moths in Graham, but the state says we do – but it’s nothing like Back East.”

Barbara said that she grew up in New Jersey and is very familiar with Gypsy Moths, claiming that the damage to trees is minimal, as the caterpillars only eat around the edges of the leaves and then move on to juicier niblings.

However, that perspective is directly refuted by an official of the Pierce County Bee-Keeping Association who is originally from Pennsylvania, and he says he has seen entire hillsides stripped bare of vegetation.

The WSDA website touts that kind of impact from unchecked GM infestations, and adds that entire ecosystems can be devastated as the trees die due to the loss of their leaves, then followed by severe soil erosion when the trees are no longer able to control water run-off during rainstorms.

But Barbara’s concerns are echoed by Ray Cool, the former leader of the Graham Self-Reliant Community, who also attended the WSDA meeting.

There were more state officials in the room than Graham residents,” Cool said, “and the state made it seem like they were more interested in protecting the trees of the timber companies than the health of local residents.”

Mr. Cool also told the Mountain News that he is concerned about the added chemicals to the spraying compound. “They said that the BTK is only 10% of the total amount of the spray – and when we asked what’s in the rest of the spray, they told us they couldn’t tell us because it’s a proprietary secret of the chemical company that makes the stuff.”

An official of the WSDA, Karla Salp, directly addressed those concerns with the Mountain News. In an email she wrote:

Components of the spray are protected and I don’t know what they are. The Washington State Department of Health, however, has been able to examine all of the contents of the spray. While they cannot release the contents, they did examine them and found that they were unlikely to pose any public health concern.”

Similarly, on the WSDA’s Gypsy Moth website the state claims that in forty years of spraying only two individuals have complained on negative health consequences, and both people had serious pre-existing health concerns.

Specifically, the spraying will be conducted in the early morning hours depending on weather conditions, and the state will give the affected area two more applications, most likely 5-14 days apart. Hence the spraying should be concluded by early June.

The spray will be applied by a fixed-wing aircraft, according to Mr. Louisell, and is a very sticky substance. Ms. Salp suggested that concerned residents should use tarps to cover BBQs, cars, and toys left outside. In addition, she said that her vehicle has been subjected to a spraying and that the residue washed off easily in a car wash.

Salp also told the Mountain News that she will personally be on site for the Graham spraying to help coordinate the program, assist residents, and answer questions.

Despite the state’s assurances, however, some remain skeptical. Cool told the Mountain News that the state officials acknowledged the over-spray and drift may be as much as one-mile from the targeted area, adding to health concerns. Cool wrote an email to the Mountain News and sounded downright angry.

Health impacts? How would they know?” he wrote. “Do they monitor everyone in the spray zone for years to track any health issues? I seriously doubt it.”

Regarding health issues, especially breathing difficulties, Salp offered the following:

The Department of Health…recommends as a precautionary measure that people close windows and stay inside for 30 minutes after the spray. In 2016 our biggest complaint was from people whose cars were sticky after treatments.”

Mr. Louisell added that those concerned about the spray seeping in a home can air-out the house several hours after the spraying, especially if the day is sunny as sunshine and good weather breaks down the spray compounds lingering in the atmosphere.

But in all this turmoil, some community good may arise for all.

We need an Integrative Pest Management program, whereby we could physically remove the Gypsy Moths from the trees and bushes,” said Barbara. “Neighbors and children could be taught how to identify the Gypsy Moths – distinguishing a Gypsy Moth caterpillar from a Tent caterpillar, which looks just like it – and crush it so it doesn’t reproduce or strip away a tree.”

She added that local groups, such as the Boy Scouts, Bethel after-school programs, and the Eco-Explorers of Graham, include Gypsy Moth control as part of their outdoor education program.

What I’m really looking for is a paradigm shift,” said Barbara, “from a top-heavy bureaucratic response to a more localized, hands-on effort to control Gypsy Moths.”

Regarding the WSDA’s program, the spraying will be in a rectangular area bordering from just west of Meridian to 88th Street, and from 200th St. E north to approximately 187th Street. It is estimated to be 300 acres in area, about one-half mile by a mile.

For a map of the targeted area:

For more information on the WSDA’s Gypsy Moth control program:

For health impacts:

Editor’s Note: Several Mountain News readers have asked about impacts to birds, pets, and plants from the BTK spraying. The WSDA website claims that the BTK has no known negative health impacts on mammals, animals, fish, birds, or plant life.

Photo Gallery

Gypsy Moth, caterpillar, WSDA, 3. 19. 18

A Gypsy Moth caterpillar


Gypsy Moth trap, WSDA, 3. 19. 18

The WSDA posts these Gypsy Moth traps throughout suspected areas in the summer. If they collect sufficient numbers of adult, male GMs, then they schedule a spraying for the following spring. Above pictures courtesy of the WSDA.

Gypsy Moths, defoliation, Natalie, 3. 20. 18

Gypsy Moths eating leaves. Despite its gruesome appearance, Natalie M. claims that this defoliation is not extensive enough to destroy the trees. Rather, she claims it is a “seasonal defoliation.” Photo above and below are provided by Natalie M., courtesy of the Internet.

Gypsy Moths, defoliation with caterpillars on branches, Natalie, 3. 20. 18


Note: Bruce A. Smith is a long-time investigative journalist and is also the author of DB Cooper and the FBI –  A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking.


This entry was posted in Back East, Bethel News, Environment, Health, Nature, Self Reliance. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to WSDA to conduct Gypsy Moth spraying in parts of Graham

  1. Raymond Cool says:

    Thank you for investigating this and writing an article on it.

  2. rthurs666 says:

    BTK, in and of itself, is totally harmless to humans and mammals, fish or birds. It is not a chemical,; it is a bacterium. Now, if it is, indeed, mixed with other chemicals, we should be aware of those chemicals. Without disclosing the exact formulation, which may be proprietary; the state should be required to issue a list of the contents of the spray. If any individual chemical is found to be harmful, the public should be informed. Otherwise, let the spraying proceed.

    The notion of having children pick off caterpillars, identify them by species and crush them individually is so absurd as to verge on dementia. Does anybody.with an IQ above room temperature seriously believe we could recruit thousands of children born after 2001 to pick bugs off trees and mash them? Not to mention liability if a child falls out of a tree or is otherwise injured in the process. Back to Fantasy Island for a refresher course for you.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      In reply to Richard Thurston:

      As a former scoutmaster in the BSA, I fully appreciate your concerns for the practicalities of employing scores of kids to pick Gypsy Moth caterpillars off the trees of Graham. But I do like the notion of educating our youth to the environmental dynamics of their neighborhoods. If not squishing dangerous bugs, perhaps monitoring the GM traps? Testing the air and ground for toxins and excessive levels of fertilizer, testing homes for mold, etc.

      • rthurs666 says:

        I have no problem with all of your suggestions about teaching kids about nature. I was a scout leader too. And if a kid finds a GM caterpillar in his yard or schoolyard, he/she should be encouraged to stomp it. But it is not a practical suggestion for multi-acre properties.

  3. brucesmith49 says:

    Editor’s Note:

    A long-time Mountain News reader, Steve Klein, sent the following email and has agreed to have his thoughts posted:

    “I remember when I lived in Coral Gables & South Miami, FL in the mid 1970s when aerial spraying occurred there.
    I had no garage and we had to ensure our cars were washed regularly so our vehicle’s paint was not compromised. Just sayin’.

    Key points in your report, which were the same issues 40 years ago in South Florida:
    1. “There were more state officials in the room than Graham residents,” Cool said, “and the state made it seem like they were more interested in protecting the trees of the timber companies than the health of local residents.”
    [or protecting whatever corp. interests there are]

    2. Despite the state’s assurances, however, some remain skeptical. Cool told the Mountain News that the state officials acknowledged the over-spray and drift may be as much as one-mile from the targeted area, adding to health concerns.


  4. brucesmith49 says:

    Editor’s Note II:

    Mountain News reader Pat Sparks also sent in the following:

    The spray seems so innocent. But we do know that the USDA, FDA & state Health Depts are not always truthful re food additives, esp when big companies are involved. The EPA report in this article is 20 years old. There must be more current studies from areas in the east with repeated spraying. The impt indicator of truthfulness directly relates to the funding of the research. Follow the money. Look to the WHO (World Health Organization) for unbiased research. Is this spray banned in other countries?

    10% we know about. 90% of the spray is probably mostly water – but that leaves a huge amt of space for the “fillers” they won’t talk about.

    I can’t imagine scouts or volunteer groups being able to control the moths effectively tho. And we do need our trees to be healthy. We need them to absorb the CO-2 and give us our O2.

    Thank god the area for spraying is small. We could have major infestations if no spraying at all. Dilemma!!!

    My response:

    It is a dilemma, Pat. I tend to go with the WSDA, though. Btk has been used for many years without significant health risks. At the very least, three sticky mornings are worth the benefit of saving a lot of trees.


  5. brucesmith49 says:

    Editor’s note: More contributions from readers. Below are additional comments from Natalie.

    “You can see in this picture (Above) that they eat the green (the “juicy”) part of the leaves. By late summer, sometimes just the main veins of the leaves remain uneaten, so it looks like the leaves are going away for autumn. However, the leaves will bud and return in the spring. This may take energy from a fruit bearing tree, but it doesn’t kill the trees. Every year, the leaves return. Instead of “moving on to juicier niblings”, I would have stressed the defoliation is seasonal.

    The only other big idea I would have added to using youth and the Boy Scouts is to put informational papers on the bulletin boards at the bathrooms/entrances to parks, playgrounds, trailheads in forests, and maybe even the bulletin board at REI, where hikers buy their gear. Karla said they have workers driving all the routes and checking each of those triangle boxes every 2 weeks. He could drop off the little educational fliers at the nearby parks and houses in the neighborhoods with a potential problem. Natural grocery stores, sustainability fairs, and holistic moms groups are other groups of people who could also help, but we can just give these ideas to Karla.

    I had this epiphany about one of Karla’s responses. She explained that they have tried get the newspapers to publish educational layouts with pictures of gypsy moths, to help the public identify them, but she said the newspapers usually choose not to publish them; the newspapers choose what they want to publish. My epiphany the other day was – how about paying for a page like an advertisement? WSDA already pays for notices when they have to tell the public they will be spraying. How about educating us years before they spray, or even better, so they don’t have to spray?

    • Karla Salp says:

      Just to clarify, what I spoke with Natalie about was that getting the media to cover the story about upcoming treatments can be a challenge. However, we also recognize that fewer people are using traditional media and more are using social media. Therefore, we do pay to get the word out on social media to folks who are potentially affected by a proposed treatment as well as for general education at other times. We believe this can be more effective than traditional media (newspaper, television) although we do make efforts to alert the traditional media as well.

  6. brucesmith49 says:

    Editor’s Note:

    More clarifications via email from Karla Salp of the WSDA:

    Hi Bruce!

    Sorry, I meant to send this to you yesterday but my day got crazy.

    Here are the things I thought could benefit from a little clarification:

    Bt isn’t lethal to many insects. One of the reasons that we selected it is because it is targeted to narrow groups of insects. Btk, for example, only impacts caterpillars. The article also says that Btk was a genetic addition to make Bt specifically toxic to gypsy moths. Btk is actually a naturally occurring genetic mutation first discovered in diseased moths in 1962 and was not created in a laboratory (it is not a GMO.) It was subsequently found in other moths and the soil. It doesn’t target gypsy moths specifically; it is lethal to caterpillars of moths and butterflies.

    Also, I actually sent 15,000 postcards out, and over 9,400 of those were to residents and businesses in or near the proposed treatment area. I apologize if I provided the incorrect number previously.

    That’s it! Thanks!

    Karla Salp

  7. brucesmith49 says:


    PS…thanks again for helping spread the word! During our last treatment in 2016, we had a blog in Seattle that was really helpful for sharing information as well.

    I don’t think it is mentioned in the blog, but it could be worth mentioning that people can sign up to get treatment alerts (text, email, or phone call) on our website at

    Again, thanks for covering this!

    Karla Salp

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