VICTORIA -- The B.C. government is planning to spray pesticide onto hundreds of hectares of land around the Lake Cowichan townsite to help protect the region from invasive gypsy moths next year.

In a news release Wednesday, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development announced that it has applied for a pesticide-use permit to spray 231 hectares "in the centre of Lake Cowichan townsite."

The massive pesticide spray is being undertaken to help reduce the gypsy moth populations across B.C. The "pest species" is brought to the province when the insects hitchhike on vehicles and equipment that's transported from eastern North America.

The province also plans to spray 241 hectares of residential and municipal parkland in North Surrey and 176 hectares of semi-rural properties and wooded areas north of Castlegar.

"The caterpillars feed on tree leaves and can damage forests, farms and orchards," said the ministry. "If left untreated, the invasive moth could spread to new areas of the province via vehicles, containers, rail and marine vessels."

The province says it is filing applications for Foray 48B pesticide, an organic farming insect deterrent that contains bacillus thuringiensis var kurstaki (BTK). BTK, according to the province, is a naturally occurring bacteria that has been used to control gypsy moth populations in Canada since 1961.

"BTK is naturally present in urban, forest and agricultural soil throughout the province," said the ministry. "It does not harm humans, mammals, birds, fish, plants, reptiles, amphibians, bees or other insects. It only affects caterpillars after they have ingested it."

Following approval of their applications, the pesticide sprays are expected to occur between April 15 and June 30, 2020.

The province says that hand sprays of BTK had been conducted in the North Surrey area in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but none of the smaller-scale treatments had completely eradicated the infestation.