Comments for Secretary Moore

Today, our Coalition submitted a letter to Julie Moore, Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. The four page letter presents our arguments that the Secretary should follow the recommendations of every independent scientist who has addressed the issue and require that BLSG apply for an incidental takings permit. You can see the letter here.

Our Coalition of wildlife conservation and environmental organizations is growing. We welcome Defenders of Wildlife which recently created a big win for bats when a federal judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the northern long-eared bat warrants listing as an endangered species. Jane Davenport, a senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, led this case and is supportive of our efforts to protect state- and federally listed bats in Vermont. Thank you to Jane Davenport and to all the members of our Coalition for recognizing the importance of these efforts to reduce the risk to bats from BLSG’s activities. This Coalition originally submitted the Arrowwood Report to the Agency of Natural Resources 18 months ago and has been patient and supportive since then.

The regional and national wildlife and conservation groups in our coalition.
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ANR has one last chance to protect endangered bats

On town meeting day, Vermont’s Endangered Species Committee (ESC) sent a memo to Julie Moore, the Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). The memo followed 17 months of deliberation on a single issue—a threat to endangered and threatened bats in Addison and Rutland Counties. The threat comes from pesticide spraying in the BLSG (Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen Pittsford Insect Control District). BLSG sprays the pesticides malathion and permethrin to kill mosquitoes, and the ESC biologists had voted unanimously that this posed a risk to endangered bats because it happened after dark on summer nights when bats were flying low over the rural towns hunting for flying insects. As bats fly through the chemical plume of pesticides, they can inhale the toxic droplets, absorb them through their thin-skinned wing membranes, or get them on their fur and later ingest them by grooming themselves or other bats. They can also catch and eat flying insects contaminated with the chemicals. These pesticides are known to cause neurological and physiological stress and injury to bats.

Secretary Moore must now decide whether to protect endangered bats from this threat or to ignore a scientific consensus that the recovery of beleaguered populations of bats is threatened by the spraying.

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Committee: Listed bats are at risk from BLSG spraying

On Friday, February 26, Vermont’s Endangered Species Committee met and voted to recommend to the Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources that roadside spraying of pesticides by the BLSG Insect Control District was risking harm to endangered and threatened species of bat. The Committee recommended that BLSG apply for an incidental takings permit which specifies if and how BLSG’s spray operation must be modified to reduce this risk to bats.

On Tuesday, March 2, the Committee submitted the following memo to Julie Moore, Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. The Committee’s role is advisory, so Secretary Moore must decide whether to heed the recommendation of her agency’s committee or to disregard the scientific consensus.

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Permitted taking

The January meeting of the Vermont Endangered Species Committee included a three-and-a-half-hour discussion of the risks posed to endangered bats by BLSG’s roadside spraying of pesticides. It was a long discussion because eight presenters were on the agenda. Four presenters were from the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife (VT F&W) and none of them expressed concern that the risk to bats was sufficiently serious to merit any immediate action. Three of the other speakers argued strongly that the risk to bats on the Vermont endangered species list constituted a “take” which would mean that BLSG was violating Vermont law unless VT F&W granted them an incidental take permit.

This northern long-eared bat was captured at the Salisbury Community School in August 2008. This species is now listed as federally endangered, and threatened in Vermont. Photo: C. Fastie
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Report Retort

On January 14, Vermont’s Endangered Species Committee held a five hour virtual meeting. Three and a half of those hours were devoted to a discussion of the risk to endangered and threatened bats from roadside spraying of chemical pesticides in the BLSG Insect Control District. More than 25 people participated in the meeting.

An imagined grid of the Teams meeting.
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Background: Could BLSG pose less risk to bats?

Vermont Endangered Species Law

Vermont has the strongest state endangered species law in the country. The law specifically disallows activities that create a risk of injury to the listed plants or animals.

Creating a risk of injury to a listed species is referred to as “taking” or a “take.” A take is defined as “an act that creates a risk of injury to wildlife, whether or not the injury occurs.”

Employees of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department also use the term “take” to mean documented injury that has already happened to an animal or plant. When discussing the potential injury to listed species in Vermont it is important to know which definition is being used.

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Pesticide spraying and bats in the BLSG District

Scientists on the Vermont Endangered Species Committee are currently considering the risk that BLSG’s roadside spraying poses to the five species of bat on Vermont’s endangered species list. The roadside spraying for mosquitoes happens after dark on summer evenings at the same time all of the listed bat species are flying low over the landscape hunting for insects. The pesticides used are malathion (an organophosphate) and permethrin (a pyrethroid). The sprayers (ultra-low volume or ULV) are engineered to produce a fine mist of tiny droplets that stay in the air for an hour or two and can drift away from the road in that time.

We don’t know how harmful this is for bats, but creating an aerosol mist of concentrated droplets of chemical pesticide at the time and place that bats are known to be flying is likely to create considerable risk. A 20-page report explains why this could be deadly for bats. The Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife will have to decide soon whether this risk to endangered and threatened species is acceptable considering the benefit produced by the spraying.

Video above: I have never taken video of the spray trucks in the BLSG District but I found the New York City video above on YouTube. The ULV sprayers are effective in urban and suburban areas where a grid of roads allows a large contiguous area to be treated. This type of sprayer is not very effective along rural roads where mosquitoes can quickly reinvade from untreated areas. Continue reading “Pesticide spraying and bats in the BLSG District”

Helping endangered bats should not be this hard

Two weeks ago I was standing on Swinington Hill Road in Leicester at 10:00 PM watching bats fly through my flashlight beam. I had a bat detector so I could “hear” when a bat was approaching and then easily find it with the flashlight. At one point a moth flew through the beam and I was able to follow it until it dove downward as a bat swooped in and caught it a few feet above the tarmac. All the bats I saw in the flashlight beam were less than 20 feet above the road. I made 46 recordings of bat calls in 35 minutes, and later a call identification program told me that all four of Vermont’s endangered species of bat had been present. I am not convinced that all four of them were there. Those species have similar ultrasonic calls and the program cannot always distinguish them reliably. But most of them can usually be distinguished from Vermont’s other bats, so although I can’t be sure which species were present, I have some confidence that many of the bats I encountered that night were on Vermont’s endangered species list.

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Bat plus ultra

This summer there was a bat or two flying over the yard every evening, so I started lying in wait for them with a camera. For about 15 minutes at dusk there was enough light to capture a bat silhouette if I used a good DSLR at the highest ISO. The photos were fun, but you can’t tell what kind of bats they are from the photos. Someone suggested using a bat detector — an ultrasonic microphone that listens to the otherwise silent calls of bats and even suggests which species are calling.

Unidentified bat in pursuit of a dragonfly in my yard at 8:24 PM on August 8, 2020. Nikon D3100, Nikkor 1:2.5 105mm lens, 1/2000 second, f/2.5, ISO 12800 (Hi2).
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Salisbury Town Meeting Surprise

I think a lot of people were surprised at yesterday’s Town Meeting in Salisbury. Our Moderator, Wayne Smith (one of five people present who have lived in Salisbury for more than 50 years), moderated a 20 minute discussion on Article 11 about whether to approve funding for BLSG. Moderator Smith warned us first that a lot of people might have something to say. Select Board Chair, Paul Vaczy, implored us to be civil and respect our neighbors’ ideas during the discussion. At least 11 people stood, held the microphone, and presented their opinion or question on the issue.

Salisbury Town Meeting in the Salisbury Community School on February 29, 2020.
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BLSG wants 51% more from Salisbury

At last week’s meeting of the BLSG Board of Trustees, Treasurer and long-time representative from Brandon, Wayne Rausenberger, made a couple of revealing statements.

“I think of the adulticide business as a Band-Aid, and it’s an emergency Band-Aid because we can’t do it the best possible way which is more larvicide work because we don’t have the funds. That to me is what it boils down to.”

This is a sentiment with a long history among BLSG board members and there was no opposition to Rausenberger’s comment at this meeting. It is no secret that roadside spraying of adulticides kills only a portion of the mosquitoes in a narrow swath along roads, for only a couple of hours, has no long-term impact, and happens only once every week or two (details here). Most residents of Salisbury who live on rural roads see little benefit from BLSG’s intermittent roadside spraying.

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BLSG Board resists compliance with state request

In advance of last Thursday’s BLSG Board of Trustees meeting, Mike Blaisdell, BLSG Chair, called Patti Casey of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. He wanted to discuss a statement Casey had made two weeks earlier. Casey was responding to the annual report that BLSG had submitted for inclusion in the Town Reports of BLSG’s member towns. The report included false claims about the ability of BLSG activities to reduce the risk that a resident will contract a mosquito-borne disease.

Casey’s response was unequivocal and confirmed our position that 1) BLSG is not authorized to mention that their operation has any impact on mosquito-borne disease, that 2) truck-mounted adulticide spraying has no substantial impact on mosquito-borne disease, and that 3) BLSG has been avoiding state recommendations and honest public relations for some time.

Before the board meeting Blaisdell had conferred with Jeff Whiting, BLSG Vice Chair representing Goshen, and decided that they would recommend that the Board comply with Casey’s requests to change BLSG’s stance on this issue. Blaisdell told the board that evening; “We feel that we shouldn’t say anything about the diseases that mosquitoes carry … because, one, it does look like we are trying to campaign off of the diseases that they carry.” There was an immediate response from Will Mathis, the BLSG Operations Manager; “Aren’t we?” This set the stage for a 15 minute discussion of whether BLSG’s longstanding strategy of overstating the risk of arboviruses to garner support for their activities was a good thing or a bad thing.

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Where are Vermont’s worst mosquitoes?

There are only two mosquito control districts (MCDs) in Vermont: the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen-Pittsford District (BLSG) and the adjacent Lemon Fair District. Mosquitoes are present throughout Vermont, but the lonely presence of these two MCDs suggests there might be a lot more mosquitoes in this part of the state. Indeed, the broad floodplain of Otter Creek runs right through the two districts, and thousands of acres of wetlands and low-lying agricultural fields there can be prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  

Finding evidence to confirm that there are more mosquitoes there than elsewhere in Vermont is difficult. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has been trapping mosquitoes throughout Vermont for several years and now has traps in every county and in more than 83 of the state’s 237 towns. Unfortunately, that trapping program is not designed to document how many mosquitoes are present. Its primary goal is to collect mosquitoes to analyze for mosquito-borne diseases. A preliminary analysis by the Agency of Agriculture indicates that traps in Grand Isle County captured a lot more mosquitoes than in either Rutland or Addison Counties. But there does not seem to be reliable scientific evidence that the BLSG District has either more or fewer mosquitoes than elsewhere in Vermont.

If the BLSG District is not the buggiest area in Vermont, why are the only MCDs in the state there? Could it be nothing more than an historical accident?

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BLSG’s arbovirus disinformation earns another state rebuke

Last month, the Salisbury Select Board deleted a paragraph in the annual report submitted by BLSG for inclusion in the Town Reports of BLSG member towns. The offending paragraph suggested that BLSG’s activities reduced the risk of residents contracting a disease from a mosquito bite. This type of false information has been repeated by BLSG for many years and we have been asking them to stop for at least two years. BLSG’s message is demonstrably false but their website and public statements continue the disinformation campaign despite direct rebukes from state officials.

Today, Patti Casey, the Environmental Surveillance Program Director at Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, offered another strong reprimand. Patti Casey copied the following statement to us and to two state officials in Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture and Department of Health. The statement confirms our position that 1) BLSG is not authorized to even mention that their operation has any impact on mosquito-borne disease, that 2) truck-mounted adulticide spraying has no substantial impact on mosquito-borne disease, and that 3) BLSG has been defying state recommendations and honest public relations for some time.

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Salisbury Select Board makes informed decisions

Last night the Salisbury Select Board confirmed that Mike Blaisdell (Chair of the BLSG Board of Trustees) had acknowledged that there were problems with the annual report BLSG had submitted for inclusion in the Town Reports of the five BLSG District Towns. Blaisdell approved a plan to allow Salisbury to delete a misleading paragraph about arboviruses before including the report in their Town Report.

Although Blaisdell acknowledged the improper nature of the report, he was apparently not planning to send a revised report to all the District towns without first getting approval from the BLSG board. Therefore misleading information could appear in the Town Reports of all other District towns. Select Board members from these towns might still have time to contact Blaisdell and get approval to delete the misleading information.

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Arbovirus disinformation

The leadership of BLSG regularly mentions mosquito borne diseases when describing the services they provide. Their message is that BLSG’s operation reduces the chances that residents of the BLSG District will contract a disease from a mosquito. The BLSG leadership’s message is wrong, and it is inappropriate for them to even include this topic in public discussions.

Arboviruses in Vermont

Despite BLSG’s continued reference to a long list of tropical diseases, there are only two arboviruses carried by mosquitoes in Vermont: West Nile virus (WNV) and eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEv). The human illnesses caused by these viruses are extremely rare in Vermont.

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Why is BLSG mosquito control ineffective?

BLSG has failed to do aerial application of bacterial larvicides

Aerial application of bacterial larvicide granules is the most effective and safe method of mosquito control. When mosquito larvae eat the naturally occurring bacteria, proteins formed by the bacteria kill the larvae. BLSG has failed in recent years to apply larvicides from the air throughout the District. BLSG has failed to do any aerial larvicide application in Salisbury for the last two years.

Again this year, there is not enough money in the budget to apply aerial larvicides in the spring throughout the District. The state is not supplying enough money to support adequate aerial treatment.

Without first treating the primary breeding grounds with larvicide, the subsequent chemical treatments cannot be considered part of an integrated pest management program which is a requirement of BLSG’s permit. Although some of the BLSG District was treated with larvicides from the ground last year, it was only a small portion of the 6000 treatable acres.

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New study links organophosphate pesticides to IQ loss

Malathion, one of the two chemicals sprayed along roads in the BLSG District to kill mosquitoes, is an organophosphate pesticide. A new peer-reviewed study, published yesterday, concludes that organophosphate pesticide exposure in pregnant women can be responsible for a significant drop in IQ of their children. According to the study, in recent years, organophosphate pesticides and flame retardants have overtaken lead and mercury as the chemicals responsible for the biggest loss of IQ among children. The abstract of the study in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology is here and a news article about the study is here.

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New long-term study links pyrethroids and health risk

Last month an article about the health effects of pyrethroid insecticides was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Internal Medicine). You can read a summary here and a news article here. The peer reviewed article describes the results of a study of 2116 nationally representative American adults who were followed for 17 years. At the beginning of the study each participant had a urine test for pyrethroids. During the study 246 of the participants died, and those with higher levels of pyrethroids at the start of the study were more likely to die. The group was divided into thirds (low, medium, and high levels of pyrethroids), and those in the high group were three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those in the low group. Those in the high group were 1.5 times more likely to die of any cause compared to the low group.

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Vermont avoids New England’s big year for EEE

Southern New England had a big year for Eastern Equine Encephalitis in 2019. There were 20 reported human cases of the EEE virus (EEEv) in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island with nine deaths. This is the most cases in a decade including the last outbreak year of 2012. To the east and west of Vermont, New Hampshire and New York had no human cases of EEEv, but dozens of mosquito samples were positive for EEEv. Vermont did not have any human cases of EEEv in 2019, and no EEEv was found in 3217 samples of mosquitoes tested.

The risk from Eastern Equine Encephalitis in Massachusetts in September at the height of the season. The risk is derived from the number of mosquito pools testing positive for EEEv and other factors. Two towns on the Vermont border (upper left) had positive pools, but no EEEv-positive mosquitoes were found in Vermont.
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