Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Mosquito season is starting—and it may be a threat to the local environment

Mosquito spaying from the city uses high-grade chemicals that don't harm the bee population, said Andy Westrich, president of the Colonial Beekeepers Association. (WYDaily/Adobe)
Mosquito spaying from the city uses high-grade chemicals that don’t harm the bee population, said Andy Westrich, president of the Colonial Beekeepers Association. (WYDaily/Adobe)

Mosquito spraying begins June 4 in Williamsburg this year, and while it gets rid of the pesky insects, what does it do to the bees?

“How the bee problem impacts our food supply is what makes it a national crisis,” said Hodgie Holgersen, former president of the Tidewater Beekeepers Association and master beekeeper. “When it comes to nature, man has a lot to learn.”

Each year the city spends approximately $15,000 on mosquito spraying using a high-grade adulticide called Duet, said Lee Ann Hartmann, spokeswoman for the city. The spraying begins at dusk through a fog that is streamed off the back of a truck.

Residents have the option to opt out of the program, meaning their house would be skipped in during the spraying route, but only approximately 14 people in the past year have chosen to do so, Hartmann said.

While there are possibilities that fog could drift depending on wind and contaminate beehives, Andy Westrich, president of the Colonial Beekeepers Association, said the city does a good job to work with beekeepers to stay informed and protect the insects if weather conditions are possible for drifting.

What both Holgersen and Westrich said was the biggest concern is the private companies that are hired by individuals to spray their yards.

“I can fully understand why people want to go outside and enjoy the outdoors, but it would be easier, cheaper and better for the environment to use insect repellent,” Westrich said. “It would keep you perfectly safe from mosquitoes instead of paying money to basically nuke your yard.”

Westrich said while the chemicals used by the city are gone within six to eight hours, the synthetic permethrin and other chemicals in commercial sprays can last for weeks.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Holgersen said those chemicals are commonly found in commercial sprays. While the chemical is not illegal, it can be detrimental to bees and other insects.

“If a bee lands on that plant, it’s dead,” Westrich said.

The best solution, both Westrich and Holgersen said, is for residents to be aware of the proper techniques to avoid mosquitoes, such as removing standing water in a yard, or using body sprays or lotions.

But the bee population in the Historic Triangle is increasing slightly every year because of the increase of beekeepers in the area, Westrich said. When he first started with the association 14 years ago, he said there were only 37 members. Now there are about 120.

Even with the increase of beekeepers in an area, Holgersen said there could still be a risk of lowering population as the national crisis continues. According to Greenpeace, a global organization that advocates for environmental issues, the number of bee colonies has decreased by 90 percent since 1962.

And Hampton Roads is no exception.

“As an agriculturally-driven state, it’s critical to the state of Virginia and its economy to promote the health and welfare of the honeybee,” Holgersen said.

While mosquito spraying from the city might not pose a threat to the bee population, local beekeepers want residents to be aware of any additional chemicals they’re putting into their yards.

“If people really cared about the environment, they wouldn’t spray chemicals they’re not informed about,” Westrich said.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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