Late summer means crisp days and cooler nights, swinging back into routines, and savoring the last juicy tomatoes of the season. It also still means mosquitoes, and more rainfall can lead to an uptick in the number of shallow pools that make ideal mosquito breeding territory. Mosquitoes are a public health risk, since they spread diseases like West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) to humans. But managing mosquitoes can and should be done in ways that protect both human AND ecological health. Read on to learn more about what’s being done and how you can help.
Planning for Mosquito Control in Massachusetts
Last year, the Massachusetts legislature created the Mosquito Control for the 21st Century Task Force, on which Mass Audubon serves, to review and recommend updates to the state’s outdated mosquito control program. The state also commissioned a report summarizing current mosquito control practices. The report confirms that there is no quantifiable evidence that current practices, which include routine spraying of pyrethroid pesticides, are effective in reducing mosquitoes or mosquito-borne diseases. Pyrethroid pesticides use chemicals that are highly toxic to bees, fish, and many other beneficial species, and pose health risks to people too.
Despite the lack of data on effectiveness, the report claims that reducing spraying could increase cases of WNV and EEE. This analysis is deeply flawed, and fails to address the economic, ecological, and human health impacts of these toxic chemicals.
Currently, Massachusetts’ mosquito control spraying program happens on an opt-out basis, meaning communities and/or landowners must proactively submit requests to have their properties excluded from chemical spraying. But just because a request is made doesn’t necessarily mean it will be met — the state recently denied requests from 11 communities to opt-out of chemical spraying, and has indicated that the standards for municipalities and landowners to opt-out will be made even more stringent next year. If you are growing food or pollinator gardens without pesticides, you may be subjected to spraying if the program continues in this direction.
Another Path Forward
There are more effective ways to reduce the risk of WNV and EEE. These include personal protection measures, eliminating artificial breeding areas like discarded tires, and restoring wetlands and rivers to increase access by fish and other mosquito predators to natural breeding habitat. Nature-based solutions can also have the added benefit of strengthening resilience to climate impacts like flooding.
The state is accepting comments through September 17 on their report on current mosquito control practices. You can urge them to improve these practices by submitting a comment today – encourage them to put the state’s resources to better use by employing mosquito control methods that are rooted in ecological restoration, rather than statewide spraying as the default.
Through science-based, ecological restoration approaches, we can still meet our goals of reducing the danger of disease, while also strengthening the nature-based solutions that we know are a win-win for our climate and communities.