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Moth trapping program underway in the Lower Valley

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Joan Prchal monitors a gypsy moth trap hung from a tree in downtown Sunnyside, one of 400 she will set this summer in Yakima County.

Armed with traps and the latest in global position satellite technology, Joan Prchal was on the hunt in Sunnyside earlier this week.

Prchal is a summer employee for the state's department of agriculture, setting traps to catch and deter the pesky gypsy moth.

She covers eight counties for the state, an area ranging from Asotin County to Snoqualmie Pass, and the Yakima Valley is one of the areas she's assigned to in placing the moth traps.

Between now and September, Prchal is tasked with establishing 800 traps-400 of them in Yakima County-and monitoring them to determine the presence of the gypsy moth.

Statewide, the gypsy moth summer trapping program will have more than 26,000 small, brightly colored green cardboard traps-like the ones Prchal is hanging up around Sunnyside and the Lower Valley this week- placed on trees and shrubs around the state to detect new introductions of the moth. The traps will be taken down in September.

State officials say that the gypsy moth is one of the worst non-native pests brought to the U.S. In its caterpillar form, the pest attacks more than 500 species of trees and vegetation, causing millions of dollars of environmental and economic damage each year.

Steve Elliot, trapping coordinator for Eastern Washington, says the traps will be checked every two to three weeks throughout the summer. If moths are caught, more traps will be placed into the area to identify the center of the introduction.

The traps do their work by using a lure with the female moth's scent. Once inside the tent-shaped device, the male moth is trapped by its sticky surface.

Prchal, who lives near Vantage, said her goal is to place one trap every square mile.

Here in arid eastern Washington that task can be daunting at times.

"The toughest was Benton County," she said of trying to find trees. Part of the problem is the geography there, along with rapid growth in the Tri-City area. "I found one new highway there that wasn't even on my GIS (hand-held global satellite) map," she smiled.

Meanwhile in Sunnyside, Prchal found plenty of trees to choose from in the downtown area, and eyed the green belt in the Harrison Hill area as a potential trap-setting area.

Of course, in areas where there are trees she still has to find a safe place to pull off the road away from traffic. Narrow and winding Grandview Avenue was a concern of hers.

The traps are non-toxic and use no insecticide, but when possible Prchal likes to try to get a property owner's approval before hanging a trap.

After a trap is hung, Prchal provides a door-hanger to explain why the trap is there.

If residents see a trap that is damaged or fallen they can call a moth hotline at 1-800-443-MOTH (6684). The same number is also available for other questions pertaining to the moth and the trap program.

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