Stop Fed government expansion of Coos County mosquito population

mosquito_thbby Rob Taylor

We are the federal government, we can do what we want, and you can do nothing to stop us.

In November 2011, the US Fish & Wildlife Service sent a letter to owners whose properties lay within an area proposed for expansion of the Bandon Marsh outlining a proposal to acquire their land.  Since then, this federal agency has tried to bully the people of Coos County while displaying only indifference to the needs of farmers, their livelihoods, and our local rural economy.

The Bandon Marsh is located next to the city of Bandon, Oregon, near the mouth of the Coquille River and the Pacific Ocean.  Currently the marsh incudes less than 1000 acres divided into two parcels, the Bandon Marsh Unit and the Ni-les’tun Unit, separated by Bullard’s Bridge on Highway 101.  The Service has plans to expand the marsh by 4500 acres, extending its area up both sides of the Coquille River to the 10-mile marker.  Under its plan, known as The Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Restoration Project, the Service wants to buy land from “willing sellers.”  To date, most property owners in the proposed expansion area have made clear they do not wish to be “willing sellers,” creating a major obstacle for the agency.

The USF&WS completed the first phase of the marsh expansion on the Ni-les’tun unit in 2011.  The following is the agency’s own description of their efforts: “In September 2011, the Refuge completed marsh restoration for this unit.  The influx of saltwater and freshwater will allow re-establishment of mudflats and marsh plants, and interconnecting tidal channels bisect the wildlife habitat south of the overlook deck.  As the land returns to a rich functioning intertidal marsh, flocks of seasonally driven migratory birds and young fish will use the restored habitat.” 

What the Service failed to mention in their report is that their work on this project would also spawn millions of mosquitos — destroying residents’ quality of life, harming livelihoods and endangering the health of humans, animals, and wildlife.  Many people, including biologists and health professionals, believe the explosion of mosquito larvae populations directly resulted from work done by the agency during the first phase of the marsh expansion.  Some even believe the mosquito invasion may have been a deliberate tactic to turn current property owners into “willing sellers”, thereby eliminating the biggest barrier to marsh expansion.

It is hard to believe the Service could not have foreseen the mosquito problem.  It is not new.  In fact, efforts to fight mosquitoes in this area began more than a century ago.

The Swamp-Land Act of 1860 empowered the state of Oregon to dike marshes and drain swamps for mosquito abatement.  In the early 1900s, The Army Corps of Engineers repaired tide gates on the Coquille River to prevent tidal waters from moving into the valley.  Before the construction of these gates, the tide would rise into the valley, while the receding water pooled in stagnant ponds, creating perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos.  Fear of mosquito-borne diseases, which include malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis and others, led the Corps and local interests to install the original tide gates.  The Service should have known the history of the area before they removed the tide gates during the first phase of the project.  With all the available, historical documentation and professional experience with other wetland restoration projects, one wonders if the agency’s conduct was a case of inexcusable ignorance or, even worse, willful malfeasance.

Recently, there has been a spate of news stories about Bandon’s mosquito problem.  It has become such a serious issue that, on August 30, 2013, Senators Wyden and Merkley, and Congressman DeFazio wrote a letter to the new Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewel, demanding that The Department of Interior take immediate action to alleviate the problem.  In the letter, the Congressmen put the blame for the “mosquito invasion” directly on the expansion of the marsh and at the feet of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

In early August 2013, the Service issued a press release announcing that the Bandon Marsh expansion was “suspended” due to lack of funding.  The suspension is a small victory for the opponents of the marsh expansion, proving that the people of Coos County can stop government action – in this case, a federal land grab – that harms our area when we set aside differences and work together.

This same, unified approach is needed to help people dealing with aggressive mosquitoes and caustic chemicals for vector control.  This catastrophe was man-made and avoidable.  Those responsible must be held accountable.  The fight to rid the county of the agency’s unwanted actions must escalate or the residents of the region will have to tolerate swarming mosquitos and exposure to insecticides from aerial spraying for the foreseeable future.  The only real remedy for this problem is a class-action lawsuit against The US Fish & Wildlife Service that uses the force of the courts to get the agency to replace the dikes and drain the marsh.  The people who have suffered tangible loss should seek compensation through legal action.

In addition, the battle against government-created wetlands will have to expand to include projects such as the one in the China Creek, Winter Lake area.  According to a seven-stage priority restoration map produced by The Nature Conservancy, The USF&WS and the Conservancy are making plans to acquire another 15,000 acres in the Coquille Valley, which was evident in the Conservancy’s application for a grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.  If they execute the plan properly, the Bandon Marsh expansion area will connect to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Winter Lake Restoration Project.  At that point, the entire valley would become one large mosquito farm.

Where would that leave the people of Coos County?

Rob Taylor – Bandon –