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Bragg Creek residents concerned about budworm infestation

A spruce budworm infestation in southwest Rocky View County has made it nearly impossible for some Bragg Creek and area residents to enjoy their yards, which have become littered with the critters this summer.

A spruce budworm infestation in southwest Rocky View County has made it nearly impossible for some Bragg Creek and area residents to enjoy their yards, which have become littered with the critters this summer.

A group of residents have banded together in an attempt to finally do away with the invaders. One such Bragg Creek resident, Kym Binns, said the “extreme” infestation has worsened this year due to recent mild winters, as harsh winters would normally kill off the larvae.

She added intervention is required immediately in order to avoid further devastation to the forested areas in the hamlet.  

“We’ve had this problem for the last couple of years and it’s devastating the trees,” she said. “It’s quite disturbing to watch the end of the tree being chewed off by the budworms.”

According to the Government of Canada, the western spruce budworm is a native moth species that feeds on fir and spruce trees in Canada’s western provinces. While overpopulation is usually kept at bay by the region’s harsh climate, natural predators, parasites and disease, an outbreak can last for several years, resulting in high levels of tree mortality, growth loss and timber defects in mature softwood forests.

Locally, Binns said the infestation has made it difficult to enjoy her yard this summer, as budworms and their droppings are scattered all over her property – including in garden beds, planters, and patios. Letting kids or animals outside to play isn’t an option either as, according to Binns, when they come inside, they’re covered in worms and droppings.

“It’s catastrophic this year because the spruce budworms are all over the place,” she added. “It’s just horrible... everywhere you go, there are budworms coming down on silks and strings.”

According to Binns, inhabitants of the boreal forest have altered the ecosystem and changed the landscape of the forest over the years, and it is now their responsibility to learn to care for the trees.

She said an aerial spray program using biological or chemical insecticides, similar to one being used to manage a budworm infestation in nearby Redwood Meadows, is one of the best options to prevent further damage to the trees.

“We’ve kind of destroyed [the tree’s] habitat and the natural process that has been happening over the years,” she said. “A lot of these old growth forests get renewed by fires [that are no longer] happening.

“Because of that, we need to be stewards and take care of [the trees] and so we need to give them a dose of medicine, which is to spray BTK aerial spray.”

RR-BudwormInfestation2Kym Binns says due to an extreme spruce budworm infestation, she is no longer able to enjoy her garden at her home in Bragg Creek. Submitted For/Rocky View Weekly

But according to a CBC article, not all residents are agreeing to aerial spray in the community, as they have concerns about the health effects of BTK, which has been the “gold standard insecticide” in use in Canada for 30 to 40 years. As a result, Rocky View County (RVC) has not yet determined a solution to the infestation, adding the spray program has not garnered enough support from the community.

Binns said that when a group of residents approached the County to speak in favour of aerial spray in their community, they were told that a spray program was not feasible at this time. The hamlet of Bragg Creek consists of both County-owned and private land – private landowners were instead encouraged to manage the infestation on their own property, with recommendations and advice available.

However, Binns said most spray machines only go up to about 50 feet, covering only the bottom half of many of Bragg Creek’s trees. She added the group will be approaching RVC again to try to determine a solution to the infestation in the near future.

“It’s just important to get the word out and to know that the trees are being damaged and we need to find a solution,” she said.

According to an email statement from RVC, they recognize that “favourable conditions” have allowed the spruce budworm population to thrive in and around Bragg Creek. As a first step to finding a solution to the infestation, the County said it will be using results from a recent survey of trees in the community to develop a plan to manage the problem on County-owned land.

“Any decision to conduce wide-scale aerial spraying on County-owned and private land is both costly and complex, as it would require a level of community support and consensus that does not exist today,” the statement read. “The County is encouraging concerned residents to manage the budworm population on their own property.”

RVC is recommending that residents on privately owned lands join together and hire a qualified contractor who would be able to apply herbicide to the trees through aerial or ground spraying, or an injection application.

“We know that the many trees in and around Bragg Creek contribute to the community's charm and appeal and that it is difficult to see this infestation spread. The County will continue to work with residents to manage the [infestation] in a way that balances the desire to address the problem with the respect of individual property rights,” the statement read. 

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