It's a trap! Gypsy moth trappers are in action - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

It's a trap! Gypsy moth trappers are in action

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - State trappers are getting ready to trap gypsy moths. They're putting brightly colored traps in trees, shrubs and other plants to help protect Washington's forests, agriculture and cityscapes from a destructive plant-eating pest. 

The traps are a key tool for detecting invasive gypsy moth across the state. Twenty-five trappers hired by the Washington State Department of Agriculture's (WSDA) are hanging 18,000 small cardboard traps in residential neighborhoods, business districts, ports and rural areas throughout the state. The traps will be checked every two or three weeks during the summer and early fall before they're taken down in October. 

The traps are non-toxic and contain a sex pheromone that attracts male moths. Inside the trap is a sticky coating that traps the moth, to show entomologists where a population of the pest may be developing.

WSDA has completed gypsy moth eradication efforts at the 43-acre site at South Hill Mall in Puyallup and at a 13-acre residential area of Eatonville. Five treatments with a biological insecticide were applied at the Puyallup project and four treatments were conducted at Eatonville. The timing of the eradication spraying, conducted between May 8 and June 28, was based on the emergence of gypsy moth caterpillars to prevent their development into moths.

South Hill Mall and surrounding areas, as well as the Eatonville neighborhood near Eatonville Highway and Hilligoss Lane, will receive additional traps this summer to help determine whether any gypsy moth caterpillars escaped the treatments. These areas will be officially declared eradicated if no gypsy moths are detected for two consecutive years. 

Gypsy moths have been detected in Washington every year since 1977, but permanent populations have not been established because of the state's aggressive summer trapping and spring eradication efforts. Gypsy moths, which aren't native to the U.S., arrive in the Pacific Northwest on ships from foreign ports or by hitching a ride with people traveling from other parts of the country. Nineteen states in the East and Midwest are permanently infested with gypsy moths, and cause extensive environmental and economic damage each year.

Agriculture officials say the gypsy moth is the worst forest pest ever brought into the U.S. In its caterpillar form, the pest attacks more than 500 species of trees and plants. The caterpillar quickly strips trees and plants of leaves, destroying some and weakening others so they are susceptible to plant diseases. The caterpillars also destroy wildlife habitat, degrades water quality and triggers costly quarantines of timber, agriculture and nursery products.

WSDA's trap and pest detection programs include gypsy moth, apple maggot, sudden oak death, spartina, Mediterranean snail and Japanese beetle to protect Washington's environment and to safeguard the agriculture, horticulture, nursery, timber and forest industries.