The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Gypsy Moth

  • Ruggles Pond in Wendell State Forest. Timbers salvaged from the 1938 hurricane were sometimes stored in ponds, including this one, for preservation. wikipedia

Published: 8/23/2020 2:32:10 PM
Modified: 8/23/2020 2:32:06 PM

This story starts with one small moth and a man who hoped to create a more resistant silk worm. Instead, what he created was a pest which needed to be eradicated. Among those on eradication detail was the Civilian Conservation Corps at Wendell State Forest.

Etienne Leopold Trouvelot was a French artist, astronomer and amateur entomologist who moved to the United States in 1851, settling in Medford. Among his interests were North American Silk Moths, which he hoped might be able to be used for silk production. The problem: these moths were more susceptible to disease.

To try to alleviate this problem, Trouvelot imported hardier Gypsy Moth egg masses from Europe in the mid-1860s. Sometimes, though, the best plans go awry, as in this case. Some of these hardier moths escaped and finding the local habitat to their liking, soon began breeding.

By the 1930s, the Gypsy Moth had spread north, south and west, destroying many hardwood trees along the way. “It was devastating at that time,” said Alec Gillman, West Region Interpretive Coordinator, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The CCC at Wendell Forest assisted as part of a containment effort to try to prevent the Gypsy Moth from spreading west. The CCC was a New Deal Public Work Relief program from 1933-1942, for unemployed men, providing unskilled manual labor for conservation and natural resources in rural areas of the country. “The CCC mobilized 3 million men over a nine-year period and 100,000 men in Massachusetts, not including the 48,000 Massachusetts men who went to other states where there was a shortage,” Gillman said.

“In the 1900s, the state spent an inordinate amount of money to control the Gypsy Moths. They used lead arsenate, which was very toxic and very expensive, to eliminate the moth. “They don’t do that anymore, for sure,” he said. Creosote was used on the moth eggs was to destroy the egg clusters. “Depending on where the clusters were found, workers might have to climb trees to do this,” Gillman stated.

The CCC was used for other projects, too. At Wendell Forest as part of fire mitigation efforts, they cut and thinned out brush and built 31 fire holes with hand tools which would hold 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of water. These water holes were lined with rocks and with a portable water pump, trucks could back up to the well and use a fire hose to access the water in the event of the fire, Gillman said. The water holes would also be used by birds, ducks and sometimes even as swimming holes, he continued.

The CCC was used again following the Sept. 21, 1938 hurricane. They were mobilized to do cleanup work including clearing trees that had fallen during the storm. “Working with the Northeastern Timber Salvage Administration, the CCC helped with reclaiming damaged timber.” The Northeastern Timber Salvage Administration was a federal program created along with the New England Forest Emergency Project to deal with an estimated 1.5 to 2.25 billion board feet of lumber downed by the hurricane.

This timber was cut into 16-foot logs. To preserve the logs for future use and protect them from the threat of fire, the timbers were then stored in ponds, including in Ruggles Pond in Wendell State Forest.

About 10 to 15 years ago, Gillman stated, hydro raking, a permitted process where organic materials are excavated from the pond, was occurring. “They dug down to the bottom and to their surprise ended up discovering logs which were all the same length and stamped on the end with the letters U.S. These logs were part of the lumber preserved after the 1938 hurricane,” Gillman said.

Once taken from the pond, the lumber was milled up and used to build the Pavilion now at Ruggles Pond. It stands as a reminder of the devastation wrought during that hurricane and a tribute to the hard-working members of the CCC.

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