Local officials urge towns to join Mosquito Control District 

  • Mosquitoes AP file photo

  • Mosquito AP

  • Deerfield Selectwoman and Board of Health member Carolyn Ness. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2019 10:24:42 PM

Mosquitoes generally thrive in wet, warm temperatures, so you might ask why officials from Franklin County towns are getting together as winter approaches to discuss why they should join a Mosquito Control District.

Deerfield Selectwoman and Board of Health Member Carolyn Ness said it makes perfect sense to talk about the topic now because she’d like to see as many county towns as possible join before next season.

“It’s really important,” she said. “We know that mosquitoes can cause a lot of trouble. We’ve seen it here in Franklin County.”

Franklin Regional Council of Governments said in the wake of the state’s Eastern Equine Encephalitis outbreak this past summer, which directly affected several county towns, it’s never too early to plan for the next year.

Matthew Osborne of the state Department of Public Health, Greg Lewis of the Pioneer Valley Mosquito Control District and Ness, who is also a member of the local Mosquito Control District, shared their experiences recently, talking about mosquito control practices, reviewing this past season and discussing future goals.

They said mosquitoes are typically out in full force near standing water at dusk and dawn, and you never know which ones will be carrying disease, like West Nile Virus or Eastern Equine Encephalitis, which can be deadly to humans.

Ness said she believes mosquito problems are worse and will continue to get worse because of climate change. She said one of the best ways to prevent WNV and EEE outbreaks is to kill mosquito larvae, and towns, like Deerfield, that belong to the Mosquito Control District get help in doing so.

She said towns that belong also receive discounts on products and equipment and are provided educational tools. She said towns do have to endure the bureaucracy, though, by taking the issue to Town Meeting for a vote. Then, she said, the state will allow a town to join.

Ness said the local Mosquito Control District received an implementation grant from the state, allowing it to hire a full-time staff person, Chris Craig, who is now the superintendent in charge of the district and was visiting infested areas before the snow fell. She said it has received other grants to help with equipment costs.

“We need to find EEE reservoirs, West Nile areas,” Ness said. “We need to handle things before they get out of control.”

Craig said he traps mosquitoes to find what percentage have disease, and helps towns kill mosquito larvae when it’s found.

“Just like Deerfield, Franklin County towns want and need to manage costs, but this is really important,” Ness said. “It gets a lot more expensive if mosquitoes get out of control. The costs can be astronomical.”

She said Deerfield, for instance, is replacing many undersized culverts because they have become breeding grounds, so the costs can seep into other areas that many people wouldn’t even think about when discussing mosquitoes.

“But it’s not just money,” she said. “It’s people and public risks. We need to plan as much as possible. Every town.”

Ness said Gov. Charlie Baker “really supports” climate-change initiatives, and mosquito control is one, so she believes he’ll supply funding if he sees towns joining districts and working on the problem.

“We need to come up with solutions,” she said.

Ness said there is currently a minimum flat fee of $5,000 per year to be a member of the local district, but she’s hoping that the state will help smaller towns that can’t afford it. She’s also hoping that figure will decrease as more towns join, but she said that will have to be determined in the future.

Craig also does outreach, planning and acts as a liaison for member towns, so he works with them individually, he said, and does weekly surveillance, does testing, mails the tests to the state lab and receives the results.

The district also provides habitat mapping and tries to determine signs of WNV or EEE before humans or animals are affected.

“Towns need to know what areas of their towns are more conducive to mosquitoes and which need to be monitored,” Ness said. “The district helps with that.”

There are currently nine cities and towns in the valley that are members of the mosquito district — only a couple are in Franklin County.

“I think even 20 members would allow us to add staff and do more,” she said. “It’s a long learning curve, so the more people we have, the better.”

Ness said with all of the issues and illnesses from mosquitoes, she feels the Pioneer Valley had no choice but to form a district and band together.

Osborne said the state is working hard on the issue, as well, including the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Department of Agricultural Resources, the Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board and Emergency Preparedness.

He said the problem is there is sporadic data from Western Massachusetts with no information from some of its towns.

“How many people are getting ill?” he said. “We don’t know.”

He said it’s not just the mosquitoes, but birds that can fly from one town to another carrying disease and mosquitoes can then contract and carry that disease.

“The reality is that this is an important issue and one that every one of our towns should be on top of,” Ness said. “The best way to do that is join the district. Now would be a good time to talk about it, because we’ll be heading into town meeting and mosquito season in just a few months.”

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-9591, ext. 269, or afritz@recorder.com.

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