Unless you are in your forties, you probably have no recollection of Maine’s last spruce budworm infestation. The budworm, which can chew its way through acres and acres of coniferous forest and kill spruce and balsam fir, left its destructive mark on Maine’s softwood stands in the mid 1970s.

I remember it well. By the early 1980s the spruce budworm had destroyed more than 20 percent of Maine’s fir forest. The budworm assault has been likened to a “slow-moving hurricane.” Timberland owners had little choice: harvest the defoliated trees immediately or lose the economic value of huge tracts of forest. The result, of course, was expansive and controversial clear cuts the likes of which Maine had never seen. Clear cuts are not pleasing to the eye. Neither is the knowledge that miles of Maine forest lands that are home to fish and wildlife are being inundated with insecticides.

It was a tense era, a clash between economics and environmentalism that led, eventually, to passage of the Forest Practices Act of 1989, which today regulates forestry practices in Maine.

Unfortunately, according to experts, Maine is about to undergo another major spruce budworm infestation. The budworm moth can be tracked. It is moving our way from Canada. Will it be a repeat of the 1970s with sprawling sections of fir trees rendered dead and brown by the voracious budworm?

It’s hard to predict the extent of the impact, but we in Maine are expected to see the effects of the budworm within the next two to four years. Experts say that it is possible, through good preparation, to mitigate the damage, although I’ve yet to see any explanation of how this will be done. At this point, state and private interests are collaborating on a disaster preparedness plan to be unveiled this summer.

Of course, Mother Nature marches to its own drummer, but Maine needs a spruce budworm epidemic about as much as another record-breaking winter. There is a ripple effect when large tracts of forest just perish. Birds and wildlife lose precious habitat. Trout streams lose protective canopies that keep flowing water cool. In rural Maine, the economic consequences can be substantial.

Then there is the issue of insecticides. In the 1970s, tons of insecticides were air-dropped across Maine’s fir forest by aircraft in an attempt to “mitigate” the march of the budworms. Not-to-worry assurances were made to the public by state foresters and timberland owners, but it was a hard sell.

One day in June of 1976, as I was casting a fly upon the waters of one of my favorite Aroostook County trout ponds, I saw and heard the drone of a low-flying “delivery” aircraft a few miles to the north. Soon, the glassy surface of this pristine trout pond was disturbed by oily droplets that soon dissipated.

It happened only once, but I never forgot the sight and the sick feeling in my stomach. Whether there was any side-effects or lasting damage by the insecticide war against the budworm is a question never addressed, as far as I know.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors.” His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”


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