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.)
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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