An insecticide intended to kill the target (mosquitoes) mysteriously kills thousands of non-targets (monarch butterflies). A mosquito weighs about 5 mg; a monarch butterfly weighs about 500 mg.
To get a handle on this size difference, you might compare this to a weed killer that mysteriously destroys 16-foot trees in addition to the intended target: 2-inch weeds.
If this sounds strange, here’s something stranger: six months later and still no explanation for the Monarch Massacre that followed the aerial application of permethrin on Aug. 26.
This raises questions:
- What is not yet known about permethrin?
- Are there certain situations to be avoided that we did not know about?
- Do we really know all we should know about the long-term effects of permethrin on pets and humans? (We now know it can decimate monarch butterflies.)
If all was done correctly on Aug. 26, which is what Cass County Vector Control director Ben Prather and the investigators say, there is only one conclusion: Something is missing from our knowledge about the safe use of permethrin. This conclusion causes concern regarding its safety. Some mistrust, too.
Thanks to a simple request to Cass County Vector Control, I was able to put our address on the “no spray zone” for ground-spraying. I attempted to do the same for aerial spraying, but as I expected, this is not possible. The airplane drops permethrin, albeit a small dose, on all living things in its path. The path covers 330 square miles in Cass and Clay counties.
I urge Cass County Vector Control to:
- Stop aerial spraying, which gives no choice regarding exposure to permethrin
- Ensure sufficient staff to continue targeted ground-spraying throughout the entire mosquito season
- Continue giving residents the opportunity to opt out of ground-spraying
- Emphasize actions people can take to personally protect themselves from mosquitoes: Get rid of stagnant water, fix screens, stay indoors in the evening or wear effective repellent and/or appropriate protective clothing when outdoors.
Yes, protection from mosquito-borne diseases is important, but not with a broadly applied chemical that can mysteriously destroy far more, far bigger than the intended target. We saw the still-unexplained destruction of monarch butterflies.
Now is the time for a healthier, 21st-century approach that respects and supports a December 2020 announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “Listing the monarch as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.”
Yes, a healthier approach will require more individual effort. Yes, it will require out-of-the-box thinking by officials. And a resounding yes, it will be worth it.
No one wants to see a repeat of Aug. 26.
Barbara Beckman lives in Moorhead.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership