By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre's days of red welts left by mosquitoes and other flying pests could come to an end by the summer of 2004.
Hill County officials and a group of citizens are working to create a county mosquito district that will have the authority to perform wide-scale insecticide applications to help curb the bothersome bugs.
Reducing the number of mosquitoes will lower the risks posed by the West Nile virus and make summer more pleasant, said Hill County Weed Department coordinator Terry Turner.
Turner said the county was inspired to create a mosquito district after receiving a number of suggestions from people concerned about the insect problems in the area.
People working to create the district include Montana State University-Northern student James Brandon and Havre residents Rick and Pam Harada.
The group will circulate a petition to form the district. A community meeting will be held April 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the county building across from the Hill County Detention Center. During the meeting, the final draft of the petition will be completed, Turner said.
The petition will be circulated the following week, Turner said. A total of 3,500 registered voters in Havre are needed to form the district. The measure will call for an annual fee of $10 to $15, which will be tacked on to property taxes, Turner said.
The fee would raise $70,000 a year for the district, Turner said. The money will cover the costs of the insecticide, the necessary equipment and the labor for the project.
If the petition is successful, the next step will be creating a board to run the district. The responsibility may be assumed by the Hill County Weed Board, although the Hill County Commission may choose to create a separate board consisting of five volunteers from the community, Turner said.
Lowering the mosquito population will decrease the risk of West Nile virus, Turner said.
West Nile is sometimes fatal in people who contract it. Horses are particularly vulnerable to the disease. Of the 134 horses that contracted West Nile in Montana last year, 38 died or were euthanized. State officials have urged owners to vaccinate their horses.
Bugs are also notorious for making summer recreation unpleasant, Turner said.
"Last summer, I saw four or five people spread a tablecloth and get ready to have a picnic," he said. "Well, they were only out there for a couple of minutes before they took off and never even got a chance to eat."
The district would use several methods to reduce the mosquito population, Turner said.
Workers will distribute small time-release pellets that are designed to kill mosquito larva and interrupt the reproductive process, Turner said. The pellets, which are placed in water supplies, do not pose a risk to people or animals, he said.
Other mosquito districts have been very successful using the pellet applications, he added. Workers must undergo training and certification from the state Department of Agriculture to learn how to properly apply the insecticide.
Bob Peterson, Montana State University-Bozeman entomologist and risk assessment scientist, has compared the risks associated with West Nile virus and insecticide applications.
"The exposure to humans from pesticide applications to control mosquitoes is much less than the risk from the virus," he said.
In instances of heavy rainfall, the district will use fogging on a limited scale, Turner said. Fogging is a technique in which traditional liquid insecticide is sprayed in problem areas.
"It won't eliminate all of the mosquitoes, but it will cut them down significantly," Turner said.
The district will take precautions to limit the environmental impact of the applications, Turner said.
Initially, the mosquito district will not cover all of Hill County because of lack of equipment, Turner said. Instead, the pest elimination will be performed in Havre and surrounding areas.
The district would cover an area six miles north to six miles south of Havre and extend from one mile west of the city east to the Blaine County line. The district will cover about 130,000 acres of land and 1,560 acres of surface water, Turner said.
After several years, the district will expand to cover other communities in Hill County, Turner said.
"Last year the mosquitoes were extremely bad," Turner said. "It's just something that's needed for the area."