ORONO — The University of Maine recently opened a lab facility to conduct testing for the eastern spruce budworm.
If you lived in Maine in the 70s and 80s, you probably remember the damage the eastern spruce budworm caused. Now, the destructive species is back.
The pest is the most damaging species for Maine’s native spruce and fur trees and there’s an outbreak usually every 30 to 60 years.
“The outbreak began up in Quebec and its been kind of gradually moving south. So, we just had our first outbreak population detected last year. So, this is what we think is the beginning of the spruce budworm outbreak in Maine,” Said Angela Mech, assistant professor of forest entomology at the University of Maine.
Mech said the last outbreak lasted over a decade and affected the state’s economy, policies and natural forest environment.
“We lost a good proportion of our spruce and fur and then hardwoods ended up coming in. That’s gonna change a lot with your systems, its gonna change soil moisture content, its gonna change habitat for wildlife,” Mech said. “It can change tick populations even when you have more hardwoods versus conifers. A lot of these kind of cascading effects can happen just from this one pest chewing on some leaves.”
However, the University of Maine is working to combat the budworm’s recent outbreak by opening the only spruce budworm testing lab in the country.
The lab determines if landowners have an above average population of budworms which would be considered dangerous.
Mech said the process begins by landowners sending in branches from trees on their property to be tested.
“We stick all the branch parts in a bucket with a caustic solution, so sodium hydroxide, and we let it sit for a few hours and it dissolves the silk that the larvae are in. Then we do some filtering so that we can separate the larvae from the plant material and then we end up identifying those tiny larvae under a microscope when we’re all said and done,” Mech said.
Landowners who have spruce and fur trees can inquire a sample testing with the lab by emailing spruce[email protected]maine.edu.