Dry spring weather keeping bugs at bay

SALISBURY — A relatively dry, cool spring has helped limit Addison County’s mosquito population, but those charged with battling the bugs warned that just one substantial rainstorm could unleash a massive swarm of the pesky bloodsuckers.
“Things are going pretty well,” Jon Turmel, the state’s entomologist, said last Wednesday. “I usually get calls when things get bad, and I haven’t had one call.”
And when things get bad, Addison County folks often feel it first. That’s because the region is dominated by wetlands fed by the Otter Creek and Lemon Fair River when those waterways exceed their banks.
As a result, Addison County is home to the only three mosquito control organizations in the state: The Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury and Goshen (BLSG); Weybridge; and Lemon Fair insect control districts.
The Lemon Fair district, which encompasses Cornwall and Bridport, owns and operates an aircraft from which larvicide is dropped following major storms in all three districts. That non-chemical larvicide is designed to knock out mosquitoes before they become airborne adults.
As of late last week, Turmel said the Lemon Fair airplane had thus far conducted drops over a combined total of around 700 acres in the districts — around one-tenth of the area that had to be treated with larvicide by the same time last year.
The state helps fund the larvicide drops in the three districts, primarily through motorboat registration fees, along with some occasional special appropriations. Turmel said the larvicide program is currently flush to the tune of around $65,000. It is too soon to tell how much money the motorboat registration fees will generate this season, he added.
“We should be able to get through the (mosquito) season if we don’t have a catastrophe,” Turmel said. “We are being as frugal as possible, so the funds will go further.”
Mort Pierpont, coordinator for the BLSG district, was pleased to report light mosquito activity.
“We seem to be doing fairly well,” Pierpont said. “We are fortunate enough to have had a light area of hatches.”
So light that the BLSG has thus far been able to mostly spray its larvicide at ground level, by hand, in small wetland pockets where there is standing water. The BLSG larvicide spraying has mainly been done near such areas Bullock Road in Leicester and Syndicate Road in Brandon, according to Pierpont.
Anyone in the BLSG who notices some mosquito hot-spots should call the district office at 247-6779.
“We’re always willing to hear from people,” Pierpont said, adding the district could also use volunteers to look for mosquito larvae.
It should be noted that the larvicide program is separate from the roadside spraying program the BLSG district conducts against adult mosquitoes during the summer. The BLSG is the only district of the three that sprays to eradicate the adults.
Tom Vanacore, field coordinator for the Lemon Fair district, noted that while mosquito activity is currently in a lull, officials are still working hard on preventative measures to keep the bugs at bay.
“We are knocking things down, spending a lot of time on field work,” Vanacore said. That field work includes surveying, mapping and taking specimens.
Vanacore and his colleagues are also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on long-term strategies to reduce prime habitat for mosquito breeding. Vanacore noted that during the 1960s and 1970s, the USDA supported ditching in and near wetland areas to create as much working farmland as possible. But he said federal and state authorities reversed that strategy during ensuing years in order to promote and nurture wetlands. The more prevalent wetlands have in turn created more mosquito habitat.
Lemon Fair district officials are asking the USDA in the short-term to contribute funds for mosquito eradication, and in the long-term to embrace policies that could reduce the standing water in wetlands that allows the insects to multiply so quickly.
“We believe it’s a policy issue that needs to be addressed,” Vanacore said.
Meanwhile, Vanacore and his counterparts are also keeping a close eye on next year’s federal budget. That’s because the spending plan does not include any money for studying vector-borne diseases, such as the West Nile Virus, according to Turmel. The state has regularly received money from this source that has been helpful in combating diseases spread by mosquitoes.
Officials have asked Vermont’s congressional delegation to lobby for those funds to be restored.
Reporter John Flowers is at www.addisonindependent.com.

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