Budworm Tracker program studies insect's spread

A family in eastern P.E.I. spent their summer taking part in a project looking for the destructive spruce budworm.

Two teens and their mother help scientists track outbreak as it heads east

Liam and Cameron, along with their mother Kelly Conway are part of a program called Budworm Tracker. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A family in eastern P.E.I. spent their summer taking part in a project looking for the destructive spruce budworm.

Liam Kelly, 14, his brother Cameron, 11, and their mother Kelly Conway are part of a program called Budworm Tracker.

The $18 million federal project is tracking the insect using citizen scientists in six eastern Canadian provinces and Maine.

The last outbreak of the spruce budworm on P.E.I. was 35 years ago. But already millions of hectares in Quebec have been destroyed in the current outbreak and the budworm is heading east.

The insect feeds on the needles of balsam fir and spruce trees, often killing large areas of forest.

There were 25 traps placed across P.E.I. this summer, including the Kelly's trap on the Souris Line Road.

The 14 moths they captured between July 13 and Aug. 10 will be sent to Drew Carleton of the Canadian Forestry Service in Fredericton. They will confirm whether or not they are the spruce budworm.

A mother and her two sons took part in Budworm Tracker project in eastern P.E.I. 2:10

Liam Kelly recalls the first time he opened the trap and found a moth inside.

"It was exciting but it was also pretty weird that it was actually here," he says. He added it's strange that something so small can do so much damage. 

Kelly Conway says the boys checked the traps three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

"Sometimes it's hard to wake up early," says Conway. "And we even had to go away on vacation and we had to have their dad open and close the trap. So it took some effort to orchestrate all of that."

Citizen scientists

"It's perfect. It's citizen science," says Fred Cheverie, the watershed coordinator for the Souris branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation.

Scientists want to learn how far the spruce budworm has spread. (Bill Steer)
"We immediately thought of Liam and Cameron because they've been great volunteers with us with other projects we've been doing, planting trees, doing things of that nature."

"We knew that they'd be keen on this and once they started, they'd keep it up," he added. "And what a great opportunity for kids to learn. [It's] their first introduction to collecting science data."

The family is already committed to putting up the trap again next summer. 


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