Wild Berry Woes Caused by Caterpiller Infestation
Scientists say this year may mark the end of Southcentral's caterpiller conondrum
ANCHORAGE - People who enjoy picking wild berries in Southcentral Alaska had a frustrating time last year finding fruit: Many of their favorite spots simply didn’t have the berries they had come to expect over the years.
The problem was caused by a caterpillar infestation that ate everything and anything in its path, and this year, the bugs are back.
The caterpillars are members of the Geometrid Moth family that has devastated the Upper Hillside and higher elevations of the Eagle River Valley off Hiland Road for the past two summers. A look at the landscape there reveals patches of brown where the bugs have dined. Young birch trees have been particularly affected, but so have the berry plants that grow nearby.
“There will definitely be some mortality to the plant material here,” said Cooperative Extension Service Pest Management Technician Michael Rasy. “The impact on blueberries over the last couple years in these areas has been no blueberries, which for berry pickers is a big deal.”
But while the season may not be great for berries this year, Rasy sees evidence things are turning around. A walk on the South Fork trail in Eagle River revealed plants that looked fairly healthy and which could still bear fruit.
Rasy says things are also looking up in the long run. The bugs should be finished their eating phase in about a week, and he also says the yearly assault may be over as well. The bugs seem to go in three-year cycles, which suggests this could be the last summer of devastation.