by Rob Taylor
The US Fish and Wildlife Service released the anxiously anticipated Draft Plan and Environmental Assessment for Mosquito Control for The Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge on March 11, 2014, which was followed-up a week later with an open house in Bandon on March 18, 2014.
The 209-page document was a thorough evaluation of the mosquito infestation with The USFWS repeatedly and rightfully admitting to the agency’s guilt as sole perpetrator of this biological disaster. Nevertheless, The Service, already having issues with public relations due to their unsophisticated handling of the Bandon Marsh expansion, now has trouble with their credibility starting on page one of the Environmental Assessment.
The report states, “In summer 2012, refuge staff noted an increase in mosquito numbers within the newly restored salt marsh habitat and received several telephone calls and one letter describing increased mosquito numbers from landowners directly across the river from the Ni-les’tun Unit.” It continues on to make the claim that, “In the fall of 2012, refuge staff began coordinating with Coos County Public Health (CCPH) concerning the complaints of increased mosquito numbers.” It is evident that The Service did very little to nothing to coordinate with the CCPH, when The Public Health Director, Nikki Zogg, was not aware of the problem until mid-summer of 2013.
The Service contends that due to a large bank of viable eggs left on the Refuge, mosquito populations are likely to remain high indefinitely unless actively managed. They are developing an Integrated Marsh Management approach to create a long-term solution of modifying the restoration site. Until then, the agency plans to apply larvicide directly to the infested ponds as one part of a multi-tier solution. In conjunction, The Service will continue to dig tidal channels to cause more hydrological flow in the marsh, so there will be no more breeding pools remaining. They theorize that the mosquitos will not be able to lay eggs in the increased turbidity, thus eliminating the insect’s ability to mature into adults.
However, removing tide gates, digging ditches, and increasing hydrology, is exactly what caused the problem in the first place and the agency’s own vector control experts do not know if these steps will solve the problem. The USFWS makes no guarantee at all that any of these measures will stop the mosquitoes. In contrast, most of the professionals and many environmentalists agree that replacing the original tide gates and draining the swamp would be the perfect solution, because it would eliminate the mosquitoes without having to use insecticides once or twice a year. The main reason for the expansion of the marsh was to promote healthier water qualities, but the threat of adding harsh chemicals to control the infestation would be counterintuitive to the original intent of the expansion. Diking the marsh would also take away a need to institute a Vector Abatement District, which is a taxing district.
Just imagine the size of the infestation if The USFWS had begun the 4,500-acre expansion, pulled more tidal gates, and dug more channels further up the Coquille Valley.
The original price tag for the 1000-acre restoration project was $4 million dollars. It has inflated to $10 million plus and could have grown upwards of $100 million dollars if it were not for the temporary suspension of the marsh expansion this past September.
Considering the enormity of the budget, it is hard to believe that The Service failed to locate outside funding for the inventorying and monitoring of mosquitos, when they were willing to spend so much of our tax dollars on land acquisitions. The agency’s prioritization of the situation demonstrates their willingness to elevate wildlife over the lives of humans.
James Lunders is the Manager and Biologist of the Jackson County Vector Control District and The North Pacific Director of the American Mosquito Control Association. During the first week of February, he gave a presentation at the AMCA Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington, which he cleverly titled, “USFWS Bandon Marsh Wetland Restoration Project-failure to plan is planning to fail!” Lunders’ presentation is an explanation of how The Service failed to learn the history of the area before beginning the largest wetland restoration project in the state. He explains how the agency failed to learn from their own mistakes with wetland restoration projects on the east coast. Many in our community believe the entire infestation was a planned event as a way to coerce property owners into becoming “willing sellers,” thus eliminating the main obstacle to the marsh expansion.
It was very disappointing that Coos County Commissioner John Sweet procrastinated on convening a citizen committee to analyze the situation and review the actions of The USFWS. He is the commissioner in charge of this issue. Sweet’s delayed response and indecisiveness may cause voters to lose confidence in his ability to lead, which may hurt his bid for reelection.
The USFWS released the EA the same week applicants for the county’s Mosquito Committee received the notification letter. The lapse in time will make it difficult for this group to have any influence in the final solution to the mosquito problem. More disturbingly, Commissioner Sweet ignored the advice of the former Public Health Director and did not choose the Director’s recommendations for the committee, instead opting for a more politically correct panel as a way to placate The Service.
Rob Taylor is the founder of www.cooscountywatchdog.com a network of individual government watchdogs.