It’s been more than 35 years since the dreaded spruce budworm wreaked havoc on Cape Breton forests, but a group trying to better understand the bug said it is due to make a comeback.
The spruce budworm is considered one of the most damaging native insects to balsam fir and spruce trees in Canada.
Outbreaks can result in widespread tree growth loss and effects that can last for decades.
“As you know, in Quebec right now there is an outbreak, so we are interested if moths are potentially migrating,” said Emily Owens, a biologist and program co-ordinator with Forest Protection Ltd.
“One area might be Cape Breton … creating a potential area where the populations can beef up. That’s why we are getting some traps set up in Cape Breton.”
Owens said outbreaks occur every 35-40 years and the last outbreak in Cape Breton peaked in 1975, so “if you do the math,” an outbreak is on the way.
To monitor the issue, Forest Protection Ltd., a collaboration that includes Natural Resources Canada, is searching for citizen scientists to set up traps for budworm moths in their backyard or woodlot.
The initiative is part of the Budworm Tracker Program, a scientific initiative aimed at better understanding how spruce budworm populations rise and spread.
The program was initiated last year in Nova Scotia and recruited 25 trappers. However, there’s only one trapper set up in Sydney.
“What we are looking to do this year is fill in the gaps in the areas where we don’t have trappers and Cape Breton is one of those areas,” Owens said.
“Ideally, a trapper is needed in each area where we don’t currently have a tracker.”
Gaps in trapping identified include Louisbourg, Glace Bay, Cheticamp, Ingonish and Dingwall.
Trapping is simple, Owens said. A citizen scientist simply sets up a trap and checks it once a week.
Moths are a put in a paper bag, frozen and sent back to the study group at the end of the trapping season in September.
The program is free and the main study group will ship all kits to its volunteer trappers, complete with the return shipping.
After a report is produced next winter, the information is provided back to the public.
People living in these areas who are interested in becoming a citizen scientist can visit www.budwormtracker.ca, or call Owens at 506-452-3507.