’Hoppers likely to get worse, BLM warms

2010-02-24T00:00:00Z ’Hoppers likely to get worse, BLM warmsTOM MORTON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
February 24, 2010 12:00 am  • 

CASPER — Grasshopper infestations this year probably will be twice as bad as in 2009 throughout much of Wyoming, the local manager of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said Tuesday.

So the BLM is working with other federal, state and local agencies to fight the voracious bugs that eat grass and hay to the ground, leaving nothing for livestock, Joe Meyer told the Natrona County commissioners at a work session.

The BLM owns much of the public lands in Wyoming and leases much of it for grazing. Public lands are roughly half of all land in the state.

Grasshoppers infested about 15 million acres of private, federal, tribal and state lands last year, according to a survey compiled by the Cheyenne office of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and shown to the commissioners.

According to a map created by the APHIS office in Cheyenne, areas surveyed in Natrona County show grasshopper densities to be between one and eight per square yard in 2009, he said.

But counties north and especially east and northeast of Natrona County had it much worse, with Campbell, Converse, Niobrara and Sheridan counties reporting many areas of more than 15 grasshoppers per square yard, Meyer said.

Commission Chairman Rob Hendry, himself a rancher, has heard tough stories from fellow ranchers in some of those counties, he said.

“There were guys who sold all their cows because they didn’t have anything to eat,” Hendry said.

APHIS and local weed and pest districts have been working to determine the best way to combat grasshoppers, Meyer said.

The BLM probably will be able to treat large areas, but mixed lands owned federally and privately may not receive much help, largely because of funding issues, he said.

That also depends on how much APHIS receives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Meyer said. “We’re looking at in excess of $1 million to treat public lands.”

The preferred chemical to stop the infestations is sprayed aerially and prevents young grasshoppers from shedding their exoskeletons, which in turn kills them, he said.

APHIS is working to secure contracts for exterminators, which need to be completed in April before the grasshopper eggs begin to hatch, Meyer said.

Coincidentally, Wyoming’s congressional delegation pleaded for federal help last week for the looming problem.

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for more flexibility in combatting the grasshopper infestations.

The USDA recently allocated $54,294 to Wyoming to fight the European grapevine moth, which doesn’t exist in the state, the delegation wrote. The lawmakers asked that the state be allowed to reallocate the money to the grasshopper fight.

Most producers who lost business because of grasshoppers were ineligible for disaster assistance last year, and this year could be much worse, they wrote.

“Forecast maps indicated that 160 million acres of Western lands will be impacted by grasshoppers. The resulting damage to crops and livestock forage could be catastrophic,” they wrote.

Contact Tom Morton at tom.morton@trib.com or 307-266-0592.

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