WATERVILLE — As the browntail moth infestation continues to move inland from the coast, Waterville officials are seeking the public’s help in pinpointing where nests can be found so the city can create an inventory of problem spots.

Officials want residents to complete an online survey indicating where the moth can be found in Waterville. The survey on the city’s website is being conducted with help from Bartlett Tree Experts of Scarborough to develop the tree inventory.

The results will help the city determine if nests found on private property should be destroyed, as long as the property owner wants the city’s help, according to City Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, who launched the browntail mitigation effort earlier this year. The information residents share will be kept confidential.

A browntail moth caterpillar is shown June 2 between Jameson Dow, left, and classmate Charlie Ferris, both 10, in a tree at Ferris’s home in Waterville. Dow discovered that the caterpillars had invaded a tree in the front yard of the Ferris home. They were able to spot four of the caterpillars on low-hanging limbs. The caterpillar, which has two distinctive reddish dots, has poisonous hairs that can cause a rash if exposed to the skin. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

Klepach, a faculty member in the biology department at Colby College, urged city officials in June to address the problem. The following month, the City Council voted unanimously to allocate $100,000 to the effort.

Microscopic, poisonous hairs shed by browntail moth caterpillars in spring and summer cause rashes similar to those caused by poison ivy. If inhaled, the airborne hairs may even cause respiratory issues in those with sensitivities.

Browntail moths typically infest oak, pear and apple trees, but also will eat birch, maple and other hardwoods and shrubs, when the moths’ preferred sources have been defoliated, according to Klepach.

Taking part in the city’s survey does not mean residents want mitigation help from the city or that the city will take action on their properties. Each case will be considered individually, according to officials.

Klepach wrote in an email the survey is the preferred way for residents to interact with the city and request treatment support.

“Even if people don’t want potential help treating their infestation, we still strongly recommend that they report any nests on their property so that we can get the best picture of the scope of the problem here in Waterville,” Klepach wrote. “Having a high level of usage is an important part of the city’s treatment strategy that we have developed.”

Now that the leaves are falling from trees, browntail nests are becoming more visible. Bartlett focuses on larger trees, such as oaks, and uses injections into trees and leaf treatments. Nest removal and pruning is a mitigation tactic that also works, especially in smaller trees, including apple, crabapple and birch, and Bartlett works with smaller tree companies that do such work.

The city this fall received approval from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention to declare the browntail moth a public nuisance, which allows the city to spend public money on both public and private property, with permission from private landowners, and advocate for state-level action and resources for municipalities.

On June 4, councilors declared a public emergency and the need to preserve the public health and safety of residents from browntail moth caterpillars.

Councilors authorized City Manager Steve Daly to spend up to $5,000 to spread awareness of the issue through signs at city parks, flyers, city websites and other means.

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