Mosquito melee

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by Marissa Lorenz
As snow disappears, temperatures get warmer, and the sun works its way farther into the northern sky, many Kremmling residents make their way out of winter hibernation.

Bears start roaming the forests. People start heading for rivers and trails. And mosquitos start setting up nurseries and strategizing ways to drain larger species of their life-sustaining blood, greatly reducing the outdoor enjoyment for many–whether at work, play, or rest–and threatening potential blood-borne disease.

Kremmling, with its three rivers, provides a sort of mosquito paradise. And mosquitos become especially prevalent as ranchers ready the neighboring fields for hay production, irrigating large areas of land and creating a haven of standing water for mosquitos waiting to lay eggs. Thus begins the four phases of the mosquito life cycle, the first three of which occur in the water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), once having her fill of blood, female mosquitoes will lay eggs in or near wet or marshy areas. Eggs can survive months of dry conditions but will hatch into larvae once they are exposed to water. Larvae eventually grow into pupae and, finally, into adult insects, ready to fly off and start anew.

The life cycle can last anywhere from four days to a month, depending on species and environmental conditions, but typically it is
around two weeks long.

Mosquitos are of such concern to Kremmling residents, including concern about the impact to tourism, that the Town of Kremmling budgets considerable time and money each year to address their control and (wishful) extinction.

The 2021 Town Budget allocates $55,000 to mosquito control, including a $27,250 base contract for surveillance and larvicide application and the remainder for a fogging truck and aerial spraying “as needed,” according to Town Manager Dan Stoltman.

The 2021 contract was again awarded to Vector Disease Control International (VDCI), out of Denver, after they submitted a
21-page mosquito management proposal to the Town in March of this year. Therein, they claimed that “Since [1986], our programs have developed into some of the foremost environmentally‐sensitive and technologically innovative Integrated Mosquito Control Programs in the United States.”

The program designed for Kremmling focuses largely on larval control, applying “‘prescription‐oriented,’ least‐toxic, biological control appropriate to the Site,” both in and around Kremmling, with other services as requested.

Surveillance for mosquito breeding began in May, according to Stoltman, and larvicide is now being applied in town and in nearby “harborage” areas.

Town Council Member and Rancher Dave Sammons, who ran on a platform of mosquito eradication in 2018, indicates that area landowners are currently granting access to their property for the larvicide application, now that a first round of irrigation has completed in the Jones meadows and for those properties fed by the Deberard Ditch.

Sammons anticipated that a first-round of aerial application would take place next week, prior to the scheduled Kremmling Days events.

But not all town council members and citizens are in agreement about the need for ongoing chemical
use for mosquito control.

Council Member Jim Miller points out that there are concerns, especially with aerially-applied chemicals that fall on people, pets, and gardens. Indeed, Salt Lake City, Utah, recently discarded their aerial spray program for mosquito control after a group of physicians opposed it, saying that “pesticides can cause cancer, heart disease, neurologic disorders, birth defects, and autism.”

The Salt Lake City program used a product that is not included in the VDCI proposal. And the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) says that “when used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.”

But concern continues over the issue, both around health and environmental impacts.

“It’s a short-sighted view,” explains Miller. “When Kremmling sprays, we make places like Wolford Campground unbearable. We push breeding to the edges of the spray lines. Every location that is upstream or upwind suffers from the aerial spray.”

And insecticides kill more than just the targeted mosquitos, according to entomologists such as Dr. Michae Reiskind of North Carolina State University. They can also kill other pollinators such as butterflies and honey bees and can kill birds and aquatic life as well.

Bti or Bacillus thuringiensis, the primary insecticide named in the VDCI proposal, has largely been determined to be safe for larger animals. However, a 2010 white paper from the European Commission for the Environment indicates that it does have an adverse effect on the “wider food chain” as mosquitos provide food for dragonflies and spiders, which provide food for birds, etc.
Miller notes strongly that,

“There are other options for mosquito control. But the problem with any alternatives is, as long as aerial spraying is an option, there
is no way to test long-term.”

He would like to see a discussion that includes identification of the breeds of mosquitoes present in Kremmling, a definition of what “mosquito control” actually means (i.e. “How many mosquito bites are acceptable in any given evening?” asks Miller.), and how a new method could be piloted “from the Town level.”

Traditionally, alternatives include introducing more mosquito predators to the environment, including bat boxes or swallow houses, dragonflies, aquatic beetles, and mosquito-eating fish. They can also include technologies such as propane mosquito traps or genetically-modified mosquitoes, whose testing was approved by the EPA only a year ago.

But alternatives are viewed with wariness also. Bats, for example, are thought of as threatening community health with the spread of rabies, though it is estimated that less than 1% of bats carry rabies (less than skunks and raccoons) and known that 99% of rabies deaths worldwide are caused by dog bites.

So-called “mosquitofish” have been determined to be “noxious pests” in some parts of the world, having become invasive after introduction and threatening to native aquatic life.

And opponents of the genetically modified mosquitoes, programmed by designers to die before reproducing, worry that the impact on native breeds and their predators is unknown.

And so there is no immediate solution to the familiar picky problem. The conversation around mosquitoes and mosquito control
is sure to continue in Kremmling and every other place where they are seen as a danger or nuisance to human life. But there are some proven non-chemical methods to help reduce mosquito irritations.

Reduce mosquito breeding habitats by minimizing standing water around your home or business. Remove, turn over, or cover objects that can hold water, such as trash cans, flowerpots, or toys. Once a week, empty and clean kiddie pools and birdbaths. Make sure water isn’t pooling in tarps or other coverings.

Ensure that your doors and windows are screened and that you repair holes in all screens when damage occurs. Protect yourself and your family by wearing long shirts and pants during high-mosquito times.