10/21/2014 09:57 EDT | Updated 12/21/2014 05:59 EST

European gypsy moth infestation in Surrey to be targeted

For the first time in several years, the B.C. government is will be spraying to stop the spread of the European gypsy moth, after the destructive insect was detected in Surrey in numbers great enough to be of concern.

In recent years, just under a dozen gypsy moths have been trapped each year in southern B.C. But this year, more than 100 were found clustered near 64 Avenue and 176 Street in the Surrey-Cloverdale area.

So next spring the province will spend about $1 million to get rid of them, likely using insecticide sprayed either from the air or the ground.

The last time a similar eradication effort took place was 2010 in Richmond.

Tim Ebata, a forest health officer with B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, says the gypsy moth caterpillars pose a threat to many environments, as they feed on roughly 300 different species of shrubs and trees.

"They are a major threat to deciduous trees and many urban ornamental  trees as well as fruit trees and all sorts of fruit crops, so it's potentially a major urban problem," he told CBC News.

If gypsy moth and caterpillar populations aren't suppressed, there will also be major economic implications, Ebata said.

"Because we have agreed to be gypsy moth-free in Western North America, our trading partners in the U.S. would quarantine us—or impose some kind of trade restriction if we had infested material that would move across the border," he said.

Ebata said gypsy moth were first introduced to the eastern United States in the late 1800s, and right now they seem to most often slip into B.C. on items such as lawn furniture and boats.