What’s the point of a Maine summer if you can’t enjoy the outside?

People around the state found themselves unexpectedly asking this question last year as browntail moths spread over tens of thousands of acres, stripping trees — and leaving their toxic hairs behind.

It could happen again this year. More than that, the infestations could become a regular problem, ruining quality of life for residents and visitors, and threatening our outdoors economy, if Maine’s response falls short.

A bill before the Legislature now takes the right route to solving the problem. But it is not nearly enough.

The bill, from Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, would create a fund for municipalities and nonprofit organizations to use to control moth populations and stock it with $150,000. It would also add two entomologist positions at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to support management of woodland pests.

Cities, towns and others could certainly use the help. But the money won’t go very far, given the scope of problem. Even DACF, which supports the bill, called it a “small step.”


Something bigger is needed. Browntail moth activity was found across 200,000 acres in 2021, a department official said in testimony on the bill this week, more than half of it in Kennebec County.

Significant activity was found in Androscoggin and Waldo counties, too, and in smaller amounts in seven other counties.

The infestations have the potential to do great harm, particularly in a state that markets itself as an great place to enjoy the outdoors.

In Bangor, dozens, if not hundreds of trees were defoliated, officials said in testimony to the Legislature. The toxic, rash-causing hairs harmed people in parks or those working outside, and even got into vehicles, so much so that local health care providers noticed.

This is not a scene you want playing out in your community. It is up to local leaders to make sure that doesn’t happen. But they need help.

Waterville was one of the hardest hit, with the city declaring a public emergency last June. City officials have taken the issue head-on. They are conducting a survey to see where help is needed, and have budgeted $100,000 this year for mitigation costs.


Obviously, the fund won’t go very far if too many communities have to take on the costly mitigation efforts.

And if one community doesn’t do enough to stop the browntail moth, then the efforts in a neighbor community will be that much more difficult. The same for homeowners. It’s hard to get rid of a pest if it is allowed to live freely in the town or on the property next door.

Controlling browntail moths cannot happen with a house-by-house approach. Nor can it be town-by-town.

No, this has got to be a statewide effort, and it has got to be sizeable enough to make a difference. The Legislature should avoid taking what one lawmaker called a “Band-Aid approach.”

Instead, they should pass Rep. Hepler’s bill, and give it enough funding to keep Maine’s great outdoors from turning bad.

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