District turns down temporary bug spray permit

By Steve Estes

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board has decided that it doesn’t want to spend $8,000 now for a temporary permit to spray adulticide on Big Pine Key to kill mosquitoes.

That permit would have allowed the district to fire up the spray trucks again on Big Pine Key after an absence of several months.

Mosquito control had to pull spray trucks off the roads in Big Pine earlier this year when requirements for the annual spray permit changed due to the potential listing of two butterflies as endangered species, butterflies that make their home on the island.

The Bartram’s Scrub and the Florida Leafwing, both of which live in the croton plants that are common in the pine rocklands of Big Pine Key, will be listed as endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in a matter of weeks.

So the district had to come up with a plan that would avoid killing those butterflies with the spray it uses to also kill mosquitoes.

Once the plan was in place, USFWS was willing to grant a temporary permit that would allow spraying to resume, but for that privilege, the federal agency wanted a compliance monitoring plan from the district.

That plan would ensure that aerosol mosquito toxin wasn’t drifting into butterfly habitat during spraying missions, or at least that the drift was minimized.

According to district statements, the monitoring plan was slated to cost $8,000.

“That permit would have covered the rest of 2013 and maybe 2014,” said Nancy Finley, National Key Deer Refuge Director.

The refuge is the local oversight agency for endangered species protection.

That restriction didn’t sit well with the district’s board so they sent word that such a condition wasn’t acceptable. Without acquiescing to the condition, FWS wouldn’t grant a permit.

Spray trucks are still prohibited on Big Pine.

All is not hopeless, however, said Finley.

“We’re still in the process of negotiating drift rate criteria with the district, so we might come to some resolution in the short term,” she said.

But Finley said she would like to eliminate some of the issue altogether.

“I want to discontinue the yearly permit process for mosquito control on refuge lands,” said Finley. “With the lack of a long-term solution, it makes it hard for us as species managers to make sound future decisions on where we go and how we get there. It makes it equally as difficult for the mosquito control district.”

She said she believes the two sides need to embark on “a formal consultation process that results in a long-term mosquito-control management plan that covers the next five to 10 years.”

That, she says, would give both agencies a better planning toll for more effective results.

The lack of a permit also doesn’t stop the district from spraying on Big Pine, said Finley.

What it does it prohibit residual drift of the aerosol used to fight adult mosquitoes onto refuge property.

The refuge owns about 60 percent of Big Pine Key. It owns lots interspersed between existing residential units. It owns the land surrounding much of the standing fresh- and salt-water pools, a prime source of mosquito breeding.

Mosquito Control Director Mike Doyle has said in the past that truck spraying on Big Pine is already problematic because of the proximity of wildlife habitat to residential homes.

In order to spray many of the neighborhoods on Big Pine Key, drivers are forced to turn the sprayers on for the developed lots and turn them off again for undeveloped lots.

Not what he considers optimal efficiency.

With the lack of adultacide capabilities at the moment, the district has stepped up its larvaciding programs.

Both Finely and Doyle agree that those programs have helped alleviate the bulk of mosquito issues for Big Pine residents.

The district uses both human field techs and its helicopter force to spread larvacide onto areas where mosquitoes are found breeding.

According to Doyle, larvaciding prevents about 85 percent of the mosquitoes from ever hatching.

It is the 15 percent that escape from the larval toxin that is at issue with the spray permit.

Millions of mosquitoes never even make their way to Big Pine Key, says Doyle, because of the intense outer island larvaciding program the district employs.

“The district does a good job with larvaciding,and we have no issue with those permits,” said Finley. “It’s the aerosol toxin that can be a danger to the butterfly.”

Even though some mosquito district officials have raised questions about the actual toxicity of their airborne bug poison to the butterfly, Finley says the science is well documented.

“There has been a fair amount of study done on the effects of this toxin on the butterflies,” she said.

But neither side is digging in its heels and refusing to budge.

“What’s good for the butterfly and good for the people living next to the butterfly is what we want,” said Finley.

While the tax-supported mosquito control district has its hands partially tied by the permit issue, some local residents have taken to using their own foggers to beat back the pesky flying biters.

“The way the Endangered Species Act is written, there must be an application filed for federal action,” said Finley. “That doesn’t apply to the individual homeowner.”

But she said that’s not carte blanche for local residents to start filling the air next to butterfly habitat with mosquito toxins.

“It’s not something we would push extensively, but as with any endangered species, there is a protection and if there is documentation that someone is killing the butterflies with mosquito spray, we would be forced to act,” she said.

The use of individual foggers, however, is not a very efficient way to beat back adult mosquitoes, says Finely.

“Aerosol spraying by the district is the least effective method of combating mosquitoes,” Finley said. “And aerosol spraying by individual homeowners is the least effective method of mosquito control. The fogger gives you a momentary break by eliminating the mosquitoes it comes in contact with at that point in time, but it’s really just a small snapshot in time and once the fog has settled, only the mosquitoes that land on the still-active fog are affected.”

The millions of mosquitoes hiding in the woods waiting for the fogger to run out of fuel are still an issue.

“We will continue to work on the issue. Our staff is talking to the district.

There is a dialogue. We will come to an amenable solution,” said Finley.

 

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