Burlington neighborhood overrun by gypsy moth caterpillars

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Residents of Dodds Court in Burlington will tell you it’s not a typical leafy June in the New North End neighborhood. That’s because an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars has striped much of the foliage from the trees.

Lauren Machen says she is spending hours cleaning her yard. If she isn’t picking caterpillars off trees, she’s raking up the leaves they’ve brought down. 

“Just this last weekend, I raked about eight bags of leaves, which I actually don’t do until the fall,” said Lauren Machen.

Kathy Decker, a forest protection specialist with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, says dry weather exacerbates the situation, as it doesn’t allow the tree’s protective fungi to attack the gypsy moths.

By August, the caterpillars will turn into moths which will then lay eggs. Decker expects the leaves to come back next month. 

“What we try to point out is that these trees have nutrients in their storage. And a single year of defoliation generally won’t impact the health of an otherwise healthy tree,” she said.

One way neighbors are mitigating the gypsy moth problem is by wrapping their trees with duck tape. Machen and her neighbors have ringed trunks to prevent the caterpillars from crawling up the tree. Other methods include spraying or collecting them in jars of soapy water.

Resident Ashely Sullivan says she’s called city officials, including the city arborist, but hasn’t heard back from them. While the caterpillars won’t stick around for much longer, she says their presence has been disruptive.

“What has happened on Dodds Court has completely decimated and defoliated this beautiful old oak grove,” she said. “And you know we need help and we need guidance on what to do.”

Decker says her department plans to take an aerial survey of the western part of the state to better understand what’s happening and when they can expect re-foliation.

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