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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Vermont Endangered Species Committee is currently evaluating a report about the potential harm to bats from the roadside spraying done in the BLSG Insect Control District. The report from Arrowwood Environmental is 19 pages long and details the science that suggests BLSG’s pesticides could harm or kill several species of bats on Vermont’s endangered species list. The report lists 70 scientific and agency references supporting its arguments and conclusions. Below is a summary of some of the main arguments in the report.
In August, a report from Arrowwood Environmental was submitted to the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. The report concludes that the roadside spraying of pesticides by the BLSG Insect Control District is likely to harm endangered or threatened species of bat. Six weeks later the Commissioner of VT F&W responded that he and his staff had read the report but decided that no action on their part was needed to protect listed species of bat. We learned that the Vermont Endangered Species Committee, which is charged with advising the VT F&W Commissioner on all matters concerning Vermont’s endangered and threatened species, had not seen the report. So we sent it directly to that committee and last week the report’s author presented a summary of his conclusions at a meeting of the committee.
Last week the members of Vermont’s Endangered Species Committee had one of their four yearly meetings in Montpelier. Members of this committee include four Vermont biologists, three state bureaucrats, and two agronomists. Two items of local interest were on the agenda. There was an acknowledgement that Jim Andrews of Salisbury was the 2019 recipient of the Sally Laughlin Award. The award is given by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to recognize individuals who have advanced the knowledge, understanding, and conservation of endangered and threatened species and their habitats in Vermont. Jim has been involved in over 25 years of creative work in Vermont on reptile and amphibian conservation. Congratulations to Jim for this well deserved honor.
At BLSG board meetings the public is given an
opportunity to comment or ask questions at the beginning of the meeting. At the
July 18, 2019 meeting, Barb Karle from Salisbury asked a few questions about
the visits BLSG makes to private homes in response to calls from residents
about mosquitoes. Barb asked:
How many of these home visits are made?
Do you use the approach of Craig Zondag at the Lemon Fair District and find the mosquito breeding areas on the private property and treat them with larvicides?
Before adulticides are sprayed, is a test done to see if the adult mosquito population meets the action threshold for spraying adulticides?
These are good questions. By the time Ben
Lawton (Board Chair) and Will Mathis (Operations Manager) finished avoiding
Barb’s questions, they had contradicted each other, changed their answers,
squirmed a bit, and tried to change the subject more than once.
A post on Front Porch Forum yesterday suggested that maybe BLSG “ran out of money because of the lawsuit this year and weren’t able to larvicide as usual.”
There is no evidence that BLSG’s decision not to do aerial larvicide treatment this year is a result of the lawsuit. BLSG could not afford to do aerial larvicide treatment in all the District towns last year either. They could afford to treat only 3000 of the 6000 treatable acres in the District in the spring of 2018, and that was well before the lawsuit began.