Mosquitos, Pebble Mine, Wild Turkeys

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Many of the mosquitos bothering Lee County residents are breeding in pools of standing water, also known as isolated wetlands, resulting from rainfall. I read not long ago that the city of Opelika was planning to activate its insecticidal “fogging machines” and would begin fogging neighborhoods to reduce mosquito populations. I was told, but cannot verify, that Lee County will be selectively fogging some areas within its jurisdiction.

About two weeks ago, I observed what appeared to be some Auburn city employees spraying something into a pool of water along St. Rt. 14 adjacent to a driveway marked “Blackburn Lane.” I assume they were applying an insecticide to kill mosquito larvae. If so, they were killing many harmless animals as well.

In my last column I commented on the enormous number of birds and fish killed by pesticides in the U. S. each year and added “and goodness knows how many molluscs, crustaceans, butterflies, and beneficial insects (are killed).”  Among the beneficial insects killed are bees, which are responsible for pollinating many food crops. Birds may die from direct contact with the poisons or may be indirectly affected by a reduction in the insects they rely on for food.

The insectivorous birds include vireos, warblers, tanagers, kingbirds, fly catchers, swallows, Purple Martins, Chimney Swifts and numerous others.

Having earned a MS degree in entomology, and being involved in control of insects attacking cotton, peanuts and some other crops, I am acutely aware of the need for judicious use of insecticides for the successful production of food and fiber. I am not convinced, however, that spraying or fogging using indiscriminate insecticides is required for effective mosquito control.

A product is available that selectively kills larvae of mosquitos, fungus gnats, black flies and several species of midges but is harmless to birds, fish, salamanders, frogs, reptiles and mammals, including humans. It is Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti). Information on Bti – its effectiveness and instructions on use – can be obtained by Googling www.mosquitoreview.com. I urge responsible municipal authorities in Lee County to inform themselves about Bti and consider substituting it for the harmful methods currently being used to suppress mosquito populations.

Bti will not kill adult mosquitos, but if used correctly and in a timely manner, it should reduce their numbers to acceptably low levels.

Mosquito fish, Gambusia holbrooki, can also be used to eliminate mosquito larvae in pools, ponds and ephemeral wetlands. They reproduce rapidly and feed voraciously on the larvae. When temporary pools dry up, the fish die and must be replaced when the depressions refill during rainy weather.

I suspect the fish can be obtained from Southeastern Pond Management in Waverly.

One of the most controversial projects being proposed in North America is one by mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American to open a pit mine in the vicinity of Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

The mine, tentatively named Pebble Mine, if approved, would be one of the world’s largest. The companies are after underlying deposits of gold, copper and molybdenum, and the operation would produce an estimated 10 billion tons of contaminated waste.

The mine would be located in an active earthquake zone and would require construction of a 700-foot-high dam several miles in length to contain the waste. Bristol Bay and associated waterways support a $500 million commercial and recreational fishery, and the bay and its associated waterways have the largest sockeye salmon runs in the world.

Trout Unlimited is working with fishermen, guides, restaurant owners, Alaska natives and other groups to stop the proposed endeavor. A majority of Bristol Bay residents oppose the proposal, and EPA has serious reservations about the safety of the undertaking.

Last week I mentioned having seen fewer Wild Turkeys recently than in the past. Dr. Ralph Mirarchi, who lives in a rural area north of Loachapoka, said he’s seen a few, but not nearly as many as in years past. His neighbor, Todd Miller, said he’s seen quite a few.

The people who lease some land I own south of Salem for hunting tell me of seeing only two or three during the entire hunting season this year as opposed to seeing groups of five to ten on each visit in previous years.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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