The number of moths declined after the emergence of a fungus that kills the moths.
TOLEDO (AP) -- Ohio's agriculture department may eliminate a program that sprays areas infested with gypsy moths in part because the pest is no longer the top threat to the state's forests.
State spending on the program that sought to snuff out the tree-killing pest could end next year under Gov. Bob Taft's proposed two-year budget.
Those cuts won't affect plans to spray in 43 counties this spring where the moth has taken hold, said Mark Anthony, an agriculture department spokesman.
The state also will continue efforts to slow the moths from spreading, and it's possible some spraying could continue beyond this year if Ohio receives grant money from the federal government, he said.
The decision comes at a time when all state agencies are being asked to eliminate and prioritize programs. Anthony said eliminating spending on spraying was simply a budget decision.
"We're going to monitor the impact of this," he said.
Taft's proposed budget would cut Ohio's outlay on gypsy moth prevention by more than half -- from $541,000 to $200,000 over each of the next two years.
The remaining money would go toward slowing the spread into new areas.
Ohio would join other states including Pennsylvania and Delaware that have ended spraying efforts.
Gypsy moths have been on the decline in those states in the last few years since a fungus that kills the moth larvae began emerging. The fungus has spread throughout several states with help from cool, wet spring seasons.
A warm, dry spring, though, could bring the gypsy moth right back.
"That's what scares me -- that we're going to be lulled into a false sense of security," said Dan Herms, an entomologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
"We can't count on that kind of weather pattern," he said. "Sooner or later we're going to have a big outbreak."
It appears for now that the new priority is stopping the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has killed millions of trees in Michigan and now is encroaching toward Ohio.
"Gypsy moth has been dropping off the radar screen the last few years," Herms said.
It's the first time in at least 20 years that the U.S. Forest Service in Morgantown, W.Va., has not overseen any spraying programs, said John Hazel, the office's field representative.
His office is now concentrating on the ash borer.
But he added that they're not ready to declare victory over the gypsy moth. "It's still out there, but not at the same levels," he said.
In Ohio, the gypsy moths have generally hit hardest in northern and eastern Ohio.
In the past year, spraying has taken place all over the state, including in a park only a few blocks from Taft's home in suburban Columbus.
Trees that President Rutherford B. Hayes planted around his home in Fremont more than 100 years ago were being threatened by gypsy moths last spring, forcing spraying around the home.
The gypsy moth feeds on the leaves of trees and shrubs during its caterpillar stage. They can severely damaged or destroy a tree within a year or two.
They first took hold in American forests in the mid-1800s and have since spread throughout the Northeast and eventually into the Midwest.