Months of heavy rains throughout the South are forcing International Paper Co. to look beyond its usual suppliers for wood for its central South Carolina mill and turn to places that are known to have tree-destroying gypsy moths.
The extensive steps federal regulators are requiring the company to take to make sure the pests don't get a foothold in the region highlight just how worrisome the moths are.
The Forest Service says gypsy moths defoliate a million acres of trees each year in the U.S. Repeated defoliation can permanently damage or kill trees. South Carolina does not have the moths; Virginia, New York and Massachusetts - places International Paper is turning to for wood - do.
"We don't want gypsy moths in South Carolina," said Laurie Reid, entomologist with the state Forestry Commission. "We've had small outbreaks where egg masses get transferred down somehow. ... It's something that can easily happen."
All or part of 20 states from Maine to Wisconsin to the northeastern corner of North Carolina are under gypsy moth quarantine. That means items from Christmas trees to recreational vehicles - anything that can host an egg mass - has to be inspected or given special handling instructions before being moved from the quarantine area.