Even with an aggressive spray program, gypsy moths took a big bite out of more than 13,000 acres of trees in New Jersey last summer.

To limit additional damage in 2017, the state is out with its plans for another round of spraying in a handful of counties.

Egg-mass surveys were conducted through December and the state Department of Agriculture believes its suppression program is most necessary this year in the following places:

  • Upper Township, Cape May County
  • Jefferson and Rockaway townships, Morris County
  • Manchester Township, Ocean County
  • Wanaque Borough and West Milford Township, Passaic County
  • Stillwater and Vernon townships, Sussex County
  • Liberty, Lopatcong and White townships, Warren County

Each of the towns on the list can choose whether or not they would like the state to spray in order to restrict the population of the tree-killing insects. Towns pick up the tab, and the state applies for federal funds to help reimburse some of the costs.

According to Joe Zoltowski, director of NJDA's plant industry division, the pesticide used by the state — B.t. — causes no harm to humans or pets or insects beyond gypsy moths.

Each participating town can designate a one-hour time period during the day when spraying would not be permitted. Spraying generally occurs in the early morning hours, so the one-hour restriction typically aims to keep the pesticide away from kids who may be waiting for the school bus.

"It's not a contact pesticide," Zoltowski noted. "It has to be ingested by the caterpillars and it only affects the caterpillars."

The department held an informational session in Trenton on Wednesday to outline the aerial spraying, which would take place in May and June.

Jaclyn Rhoads, assistant executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, referred to B.t. as "one of the better options out there" to fight gypsy moths.

"We're definitely opposed to any kind of additional chemicals," said Rhoads, who attended Wednesday's meeting.

A gypsy moth caterpillar walks along partially eaten leaves of a tree in Trenton. (AP Images)

Her group fought against the department's quest 10 years ago to use the toxic chemical Dimilin to control the gypsy moth population. According to Zoltowski, towns at the time were interested in seeing a higher mortality rate for the money they were spending on sprays. Their Dimilin waiver proposal was rejected by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Despite the current pesticides' relative safety, Rhoads said the state may still be able to limit its sprays with a more "holistic" approach that doesn't focus on just one insect. For example, if an infested area also has the potential for a wildfire outbreak, perhaps a prescribed burn can be conducted instead of raining pesticides.

A 2016 defoliation survey revealed 13,449 acres of damaged trees across 15 counties and 57 municipalities. According to NJDA, two to three consecutive years of significant defoliation can kill an otherwise healthy tree.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.