By: Tim Studebaker

CHEPACHET, R.I. (WLNE) – It's the beginning of another gypsy moth season.  As gypsy moth caterpillars hatch, they like to feed on the leaves of oak trees.  You may remember the damage they've caused in the past, resulting in leafless trees all across the area.  That ongoing, multi–year infestation isn't quite over yet, but DEM officials say activity is on the decline.

Rhode Island DEM Forest Health Program Manager Paul Ricard says, “I don't think we're going to have a significant defoliation event this year.  There may be some portions of the state that are heavily defoliated by gypsy moth, but it will be much smaller areas and more localized.”

According to Ricard, areas that remain a concern this year include north central parts of Rhode Island, like Smithfield and North Smithfield, as well as south central areas like Coventry, Exeter, and West Greenwich.

Ricard says, “I found more egg masses in those areas last year than in other portions of the state.”

More egg masses last year could mean more caterpillars in those communities this year, even though heavy spring rainfall produced more of the fungus and virus that keep these caterpillars in check.  Those should eventually spell the end of the infestation.

Ricard says, “When something disrupts that balance is when an outbreak begins.  Once it starts – Mother Nature started it, and only Mother Nature is going to be able to control it.”

The infestation started 3 to 4 years ago, and whether or not your area gets hit this year, there is some good news on the horizon.

Ricard says, “All indications are that this will be the final year of this infestation.”

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