Western states are bracing for another grasshopper infestation amid a historic drought in the region. The grasshoppers thrive in warm, dry areas and feast on plants, leaving a trail of devastation in their path.
The grasshoppers feed on the same plants that cattle eat as they graze on thousands of acres of public and private land. A study from the University of Wyoming estimated that grasshoppers can have a $900 million impact on the region in a typical year as they destroy roughly 20% of the foliage. 2021 is not expected to be a typical year, as the number of grasshoppers continues to grow due to the continued drought.
The outbreak is expected to peak over the summer, and when it does, the grasshoppers are capable of eating more plants than the cattle.
A map from the United States Department of Agriculture shows how severe the problem has become. Vast areas of Montana and Oregon are seeing densities of at least 15 grasshoppers per square yard.
To help combat the grasshopper infestation, federal officials have begun spraying diflubenzuron, a pesticide that kills the grasshopper nymphs before they can develop into adults. They are planning to spray around 3,000 square miles in Montana with the pesticide. Authorities hope they can get the problem under control. If diflubenzuron doesn't work, they may have to resort to using carbaryl and malathion, which are more toxic and can kill other insects, such as bees.