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The blood suckers are back: get out the repellent

The bloodsuckers are back. This year is shaping up to be a bad one for mosquitoes in the Battlefords and surrounding area.

The bloodsuckers are back.

This year is shaping up to be a bad one for mosquitoes in the Battlefords and surrounding area. The wet weather over the past number of weeks has increased the number of puddles and wet areas where mosquito larvae could accumulate, making life miserable - and busy - for the people trying to control the population.

"It's going to get nasty," said Keith Anderson, parks director for the City of North Battleford.

He said the month of May has been particularly wet this year. The previous two Mays were dry and that meant the mosquitoes got off to a slow start, said Anderson. This year, "we had four times the amount of the previous two," he said.

"There's a lot of standing water out there," said Anderson, who warns area residents to be prepared for more mosquitoes than they've seen the last couple of years.

The City is doing its part to keep the population down. It has a licensed applicator person on staff who can go to all the areas where there is standing water and test for mosquito larvae.

Anderson said that licensed applicator is currently going out once a week. He dips with a net and counts the amount of mosquito larvae.

If enough larvae are counted in the dips, the water is treated with Vectovac, a biological larvacide that kills mosquito larvae before they leave the water.

"It's very target specific," said Anderson, as it reacts with a certain PH of stomach contents of certain larvae, so the mosquito larvae is the only one targeted.

The bacterial agent reacts with the mosquitoes in a manner straight out of a horror movie, causing severe bleeding "stomach ulcers" in the bugs.

"It's cool - and cruel," said Anderson about the impact on the mosquitoes.

The problem for the City is there is only so much they can do to kill mosquito larvae. The wind could change and blow in mosquitoes from outside areas that have not been treated, such as smaller communities and towns.

Anderson said his philosophy is to treat only if they have to, which is why they proceed with the dip tests. If the tests are bringing back only one or two or even zero mosquitoes, there won't be any treatment necessary.

If the applicator finds 10, 20 or 100 mosquitoes, however, it will be treated without a second look, Anderson said.

The Town of Battleford is also doing the same thing with respect to controlling the mosquito population, although special constable Geoff Thompson said the situation is not quite as dire in that community as far as mosquito larvae development is concerned.

Because the town is located on a high hill, there is less standing water around. The rains may have been in excess, but because the town is on high ground "it just runs off and heads to either one of two rivers," said Thompson.

There is "not really a great amount of concern unless there's still standing water," Thompson said. But because there is not so much standing water in the town, this year does not appear too different from past ones in Battleford, he said, as far as mosquitoes are concerned.

Again, the town of Battleford is doing battle with the pesky bugs in the same way as those in North Battleford: with dip-testing and larvacide applications when necessary to standing pools of water.

One thing you should not expect to see on either side of the river is fogging. Anderson is no fan at all of fogging and believes it harms the environment more than it helps.

Fogging to me is very environmentally irresponsible," said Anderson. When fogging used to take place several years ago, Anderson described the products used as very broad-spectrum in nature, killing a wide swath of other bugs in addition to mosquitoes.

Fogging impacts on a lot of the beneficial insects in the environment that destroy those particular insects that do damage to trees and other wildlife.

"If you fog, you take out your beneficial insects as well as your target group," said Anderson. He pointed as an example to ladybugs, which eats aphids and spider-mites.

"Ladybugs are good. The more ladybugs you have, the better your gardens are going to be," said Anderson, who says the ecological balance in an urban setting is thrown right out the window with fogging.

There has been no fogging in the city of North Battleford since the early 90s. Anderson. The town of Battleford also doesn't do fogging, either.

An issue that has come up in the past has been dealing with the population for the culex tarsalis mosquito that is known to spread the West Nile virus.

The provincial government had cancelled the West Nile control program for 2010. It was a matching-dollars program which was population-based. Anderson said what the city had typically done is put the money towards improving the drainage systems to eliminate the standing water areas.

This year, there is nothing "extra" being done on that score, said Anderson. However, he notes the city never did become dependent on that grant for its operational programs for dipping and treating, so the mosquito control will continue to receive the same attention as before, he said.