How bad was it back then?

There has been a good recent discussion on Front Porch Forum about mosquito control in the Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen area. The discussion reveals a common sentiment in the community that mosquitoes in the BLSG District were much worse before BLSG mosquito control began. This idea is then associated with another idea, that BLSG’s activities are responsible for the improvement. Here are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating these claims.

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Which towns does BLSG treat properly?

In BLSG’s new annual report, they indicate that there are 7,000 acres of mosquito breeding ground in the BLSG District which can be treated by helicopter. Most of this is in the floodplain of Otter Creek or Leicester River or in nearby lowland areas. The goal is to use a helicopter to spread granules of bacterial larvicide over this area.

BLSG reports that in 2018 only 3,000 acres received aerial treatment of larvicide. BLSG explains that the reason more than half of the mosquito breeding ground got no aerial treatment in 2018 is that the state did not allocate enough money. This seems like a very serious failure of the system.

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Trending pests

When you search for a topic with Google, you get a list of websites related to your topic. When you search for a topic at Google Trends, you get a page of metadata about who else has searched for that topic. Organic Lesson just posted a story about their searches at Google Trends for the searches people do for ways to deal with pests.

According to this story, in the US in 2018, the pests that most bothered people into searching for remedies were flies, ants, and bedbugs. Mosquitoes were number four:

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BLSG annual report says it all

It’s nice to see a kite aerial photograph on the cover of the new town report.

Vermont’s town clerks will soon be mailing us our town reports, and Salisbury has already posted a pdf of the new 2018 Salisbury Town Report at its website. It includes an annual report from the Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen Pittsford Insect Control District (BLSG) which will appear in town reports throughout the District. The BLSG report includes some good information and some that is misleading.

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Does BLSG threaten endangered species?

Nine species of bat live in Vermont, and five of them are so uncommon that Vermont has listed them as threatened or endangered species. The Vermont populations of these bats have decreased because of white-nose syndrome, a disease that started killing bats around 2006. All the listed bat species spend the winter clustered in caves or mines where white-nose syndrome can infect new bats.

Scott Darling of Vermont Fish & Wildlife examines a federally endangered Indiana bat captured during a workshop at the Salisbury Community School. August 8, 2008

Two of the state-listed bat species are also rare nationwide and are listed as federally threatened or endangered species. The northern long-eared bat was first listed as federally threatened in 2015 because its populations had declined due to white-nose syndrome. The Indiana bat was listed as a federally endangered species in 1967 long before white-nose syndrome was identified.

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Salisbury balks at BLSG funding increase

In early January, members of the board of directors of the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen Insect Control District (BLSG) visited the select boards of each town in the District. They announced that they were asking for a large increase in the funds to operate in 2019-2020 compared to the previous year. The average increase requested was $7,443 per town for a total of $37,215 or 31% more than last year. They explained that the increase was primarily to pay their attorneys who are representing BLSG in a lawsuit.

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Cause and effect

There has been a lively recent discussion about mosquito control on the Front Porch Forum for Salisbury, Leicester, Ripton, and Goshen. A common observation made by local residents is that mosquitoes were once a terrible problem in the BLSG district, but since the BLSG-administered roadside spraying began years ago, the mosquitoes are not nearly as bad. The implication is that roadside spraying of chemical pesticides has been responsible for a long-term easing of the mosquito problem.

Evidence from this spring does not support that argument. The last time BLSG did roadside spraying anywhere in the district was June 8 which was 11 days ago when five routes were sprayed.  Nineteen days ago, another five routes were sprayed, and 21 days ago seven different routes were sprayed.  So as of today, all of the routes in the district have gone for at least 11 to 21 days without being sprayed.
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Larvae or Adults

The BLSG Insect Control District operates two different mosquito control programs. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture funds a program to apply bacterial larvicide granules from the air to kill mosquito larvae in standing water. The five towns in the BLSG district fund a program to apply chemical pesticides along roads to kill adult mosquitoes.

The differences between the two methods of controlling mosquitoes are dramatic. Discussions about the effectiveness or safety of BLSG operations should specify which program is being discussed. The table below highlights some of the differences (click for better view).

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Rare and rarer

There has been a lot of scary information about mosquito-borne diseases repeated by employees and board members of BLSG. There are two serious diseases carried by mosquitoes in Vermont, and one killed two people in 2012. That fact alone deserves our attention, but how much should we be concerned about these diseases?

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Toxics Action Center appeals the BLSG’s permit approval

One month ago, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved an application by the BLSG Insect Control District to continue controlling mosquitoes for another five years. Yesterday, that decision was appealed by Toxics Action Center, an environmental advocacy group working throughout New England. The lawsuit alleges that the Vermont DEC allows BLSG to spray pesticides without following state requirements designed to protect public health and the environment. Toxics Action Center initiated this legal action on behalf of its members in the region. “It’s irresponsible to allow toxic pesticides to be sprayed near homes, rivers, and farms while safer options are available,” said Woody Little, Vermont Community Organizer at Toxics Action Center. “Before we endanger the health of the community, we should be trying every non-harmful alternative possible. It’s the law, and it’s just common sense.”

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Comment on the Lemon Fair Insect Control District NOI

The two insect control districts in Vermont have submitted requests to continue their operations for the next five years. This request is referred to as a Notice of Intent (NOI) to apply pesticides according to Vermont’s Pesticide General Permit (PGP). The two districts are the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen-Pittsford Insect Control District (BLSG) and the Lemon Fair Insect Control District (LFICD) which includes Bridport, Cornwall, and Weybridge. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will make a decision about both NOIs very soon.

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What’s in the CDC report for Vermonters?

Every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases a report on diseases, and last week’s report was about the rise in diseases spread by insects and ticks. This was a typically dry and technical report about trends between 2004 and 2016 in human cases of 16 diseases spread by ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas. The CDC also publicized this report at their Vital Signs site where the hype was cranked up by a dramatic video and some revealing graphs.

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Pretty good press

Moosalamoo Woods & Waters was in the local paper last week. Lou Varricchio from the Addison Eagle and True North Reports asked two of our members some questions about mosquitoes, larvicides,  and pesticides. Chris Fastie and Wally Bailey are both quoted in the article. Will Mathis of the BLSG Insect Control District is also quoted, although those quotes were from an essay in the Rutland Herald authored by Mathis. Reporters have not had much luck this spring arranging interviews with BLSG members.

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Aedes vs. Aedes

A new approach to mosquito control is being widely deployed for the first time this year. A commercial product called the In2Care Mosquito Trap is being tested around the world to control Aedes mosquitoes which carry several tropical diseases.

The trap attracts certain mosquitoes, infects them with larvicide and fungus, and allows them to escape and contaminate natural breeding sites with larvicide. The fungus eventually kills the contaminated mosquito.

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Methoprene and vernal pools

Thursday’s Rutland Herald article by Will Mathis, Director of Operations of the BLSG Insect Control District, focused on the larvicide program. Although the article was titled “Mosquito spraying program explained,” no mention was made of malathion or permethrin which are sprayed along town roads to kill adult mosquitoes. Instead, the article focused on the program to treat standing water to kill mosquito larvae before they hatch.

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BLSG doubles down on Zika scare tactics

There is some very useful information in yesterday’s Rutland Herald article by Will Mathis, Director of Operations of the BLSG Insect Control District. So it was disappointing to see the group is still misleading residents about the risk of contracting the Zika virus from mosquitoes in Vermont. The article mentions that insect borne diseases are part of their justification for controlling mosquitoes, and then adds “Vermont has now recorded its first case of the Zika virus.”

The Vermonter with Zika did not get it from a mosquito bite in Vermont or anywhere north of Florida or Texas. That Vermonter had travelled to an area where Zika is present. Zika virus and the primary mosquito vector of the disease (Aedes aegypti) are not present in Vermont (more here).

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Updated BLSG policy on opting out of roadside spraying

Yesterday’s Rutland Herald article by Will Mathis, Director of Operations of the BLSG Insect Control District included new information about requesting that no pesticides be sprayed along private property in the district. Last week, BLSG published notices in the local newspapers that insect control operations will happen this year, and that landowners could request that their property be a “no spray zone.” Similar details about the opt-out program are posted at the BLSG website.

In yesterday’s article, very different rules were described. Instead of a deadline of “early April” for making your request, the article states that “We will accept and process requests anytime during the season.”

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Vermont DEC wants clarification about BLSG’s pesticide plans

A new article posted by the Rutland Herald today reports that the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has asked for more information about the BLSG Insect Control District’s application to apply pesticides to control mosquitoes. “I just asked them to clarify some pieces of their pesticide discharge management plan,” said Misha Cetner of Vermont DEC.

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