Fall is here, and I've been looking back over more than 40 years of mosquito policy from the point of view of experiences close at hand.
As I took my daily evening walks down the road through the woods in Stony Creek late this spring, engulfed in the buzz of mosquitoes, I wondered when the West Nile virus would reach the North Country.
I reminisced about the old days sunbathing after a swim off a dock in Powell's Cove in my hometown of College Point. One day, a small plane flew overhead, and the pilot turned off his spray guns and waved at me.
After passing by, he resumed spraying the DDT intended by health-minded officials to protect the people in that area from the threat of harm by the disease vectors often inhabiting swamps.
Forty years later, during summer 1999, College Point was the scene of an outbreak of West Nile virus, a form of encephalitis that brings fever, brain swelling and sometimes death. Seven residents of the city died in 1999. This spring, Powell's Cove's swamps were "restructured" under a DEC project to reduce the habitat for mosquitoes. Photos in the local newspaper showed excavating equipment placing soil in the swamp and building it up e.g. filling in the swamp.
This protection was surprising because DEC's all-important Open Space Plan lists the Powell's Cove's swamp as environmentally sensitive land for top "priority" state protection and acquisition.
With the arrival of the West Nile virus in the North Country this summer, no parallel government action is contemplated.
What "protection" are North Country residents offered, surrounded as we are by swamps and dark, damp, mosquito-harboring forests? Are county health departments or the state Department of Health spreading oil in the stagnant waters of swamps at the correct time to stop mosquito breeding, as health officials used to do?
Is government encouraging people or helping them to fill in wetlands near their houses?
The DEC is greatly expanding the acreage of protected swamps,
thereby increasing sacrosanct mosquito breeding grounds.
The very best we can expect is very official advice to turn in old tires and keep our birdbaths and children's pools drained; coupled with a lot of government razzmatazz such as hit-or-miss, after-the-fact, broadcast spraying with very expensive, environmentally "correct" pesticides.
Those of us who have worked for tax relief and just compensation for owners of DEC jurisdictional wetlands, which have to be preserved at the property owner's expense under present law, find the "discovery" in College Point that wetlands harbor deadly mosquitoes quite ironic.
Assemblyman Bob Prentiss courageously led the charge in this legislative session for justice for wetlands property owners.
Let's hope that in the next session, members of both parties get behind the Prentiss bill for protection of wetlands property owners.
And let's hope that bipartisan action will effectively address the public health hazards of wetlands, so rural property owners do not have to endure the mosquito threat that DEC is willing to eliminate in College Point by "restructuring" a wetland that was considered so important that the agency slated it for priority acquisition.
CAROL W. LaGRASSE
President of the Property Rights Foundation of America