Quarantine details shake out at public meetings
More than 25 people, including State Representative Mary Murphy, attended a hearing on a proposed gypsy moth quarantine on Tuesday afternoon at the Lake County Law Enforcement Center in Two Harbors.
Representatives of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture were on hand to field questions and comments about a quarantine that would regulate the movement of wood and other products out of Lake and Cook counties. Local loggers, firewood sellers and sawmill operators were among those in attendance.
“Hopefully, we can weather this,” Commissioner Rich Sve said at the close of the meeting, echoing sentiments from concerned business owners.
The quarantine would affect many who cross county lines as visitors, residents and employees in the region, from Duluthians camping at Gooseberry Falls State Park to loggers shipping their goods to Ely or Grand Rapids. Fines for violating the quarantine could be as high as $7,500, though Chuck Dryke of the MDA’s plant protection division said such a penalty is unlikely.
“Our motive is not to get penalty money,” he said, adding that the quarantine won’t be actively enforced and only “egregious” offenses will be punished.
Lake and Cook county businesses handling wood products such as Christmas trees, logs and pulpwood would have to sign compliance agreements and all employees would have to take one-hour training courses. Business outside of the quarantine area that will be receiving products would also be required to sign compliance agreements.
The agreements vary from business to business, but generally products must be inspected, treated for gypsy moths and transported within five days of that inspection. Documentation of their inspection and treatment must be included with the shipment. Treatment can be as simple as scraping off gypsy moth eggs, but may also include the use of heat or chemicals in other cases.
Business owners at Tuesday’s meeting said they worry that the added regulation would impede business and make their products less desirable to St. Louis County customers.
“They can say what they want about a booming economy, but a lot of times it’s feast and famine (in the timber industry). It’s an uphill battle already and we don’t need any more impediments,” said Karl Kunnari, a local logger.
Gypsy moths were imported to Boston in the 1800s in an attempt to breed a better silkworm. Instead, the moths got loose and caused large-scale deforestation by the end of that century. Government programs to eradicate or slow the spread of the moth began as early as 1890.
The moths were first discovered in Minnesota in 1969, when eggs appeared in Duluth. Since then, the MDA and its partners have tried to control the pest, first by trapping and later by applying treatments across the northeastern region of the state.
Lake and Cook counties would be the first in Minnesota to impose a quarantine. Most of the northeastern U.S. is already under quarantine along with all of Michigan and most of Wisconsin. MDA officials say that wood-related businesses in those states are still flourishing.
Many are critical of such quarantines, saying that gypsy moths will spread with or without them and the added regulations are pointlessly tedious for business owners.
“Nature has a way of balancing these things out,” said Greg Hull, owner of Hull’s Sawmill in Two Harbors. “At what cost to the local economy are we going to attempt to implement a program that has questionable effectiveness?”
Lucia Hunt, the gypsy moth program supervisor for the MDA, said humans can help gypsy moths spread 13 times faster than they would naturally. A quarantine can help reduce that number.
Though business owners made up the bulk of those who attended the public meeting, Dryke said that tourists are actually more likely to spread gypsy moths across county lines. Mobile homes, firewood and other outdoor equipment can easily carry the pests to new territory.
Dryke said that the MDA is hoping to normalize the practice of checking outdoor equipment, vehicles and firewood for gypsy moths, just as inspections for other invasive species have become common practice. He referenced checking for zebra mussels on boats and buying local firewood to avoid the spread of emerald ash borers as previously successful campaigns.
“In terms of enforcement, we are going to be limited to education. There isn’t going to be anybody out stopping anybody anywhere,” he said. “We’re actually asking for partnership.”
Comments about the proposed gypsy moth quarantine will be accepted by the MDA until March 12. Written comments can be sent to Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Gypsy Moth Quarantine Comments, 624 Robert St. N., St. Paul, MN 55155. They can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second public hearing will be held in Cook County on Feb. 25, 10 a.m. at the Cook County Courthouse, 411 W. Second St., Grand Marais.