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Moorhead City Council opts out of aerial mosquito spraying

Some believe the spraying caused the "monarch massacre" in Fargo-Moorhead last summer.

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Dead monarchs from the recent mosquito spraying are collected at a home in West Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
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MOORHEAD — At least for now, Moorhead is opting out of any aerial spraying to control mosquitoes this coming summer.

The City Council voted 6-1 to sign a contract with Cass County Vector Control for other mosquito control measures but opt out of spraying. As part of the vote, the council members asked Public Works Director Steve Iverson to investigate the issues surrounding aerial spraying for mosquitoes.

At a future meeting, the City Council may vote to raise the threshold for spraying in the city or to cease spraying altogether.

The aerial spraying occurs two to four times a year and doesn't usually start until July.

Iverson said 95% of Vector Control's work is putting larvicide into standing water to kill mosquito larvae, so spraying was a small part of the contract that also includes Fargo, Horace and Cass County. Ground spraying by truck is still included in the contract.

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The issue of aerial spraying has been a hot topic in the metro since last August when a mass die-off of monarch butterflies, which some called the "monarch massacre," occurred in the Fargo-Moorhead area after aerial spraying.

It's believed the spraying may have coincided with the annual monarch migration that some believe occurs in the area from about Aug. 25 to about Sept. 5.

Three residents spoke against spraying before the council began their discussion.

Brent Miller said the number of adverse reactions to the chemical used in aerial spraying was extremely higher than any number of West Nile cases.

He suggested other options, such as more bird and bat houses, community workshops on mosquito control, dragonfly increases and encouraging people to wear more repellants.

Cheryl Melby said she was concerned about long-term buildup of chemicals in the environment affecting the health of people. Joseph Allen said he thought the threat of West Nile was exaggerated, and there was no evidence spraying had any affect on controlling human diseases.

Council member Steve Lindaas led the charge for stopping the aerial spraying for now. He suggested further regulations on when Moorhead would allow spraying, such as tracking the number of area cases of West Nile, a major reason for the spraying.

He also suggested limiting spraying to after sunset, as he said evidence suggests that allows for better control.

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Council member Laura Caroon also thought spraying after dark would minimize the number of people who may be outdoors. She suggested better communication when spraying occurs so people concerned about health issues could be alerted.

However, council member Chuck Hendrickson, the only vote to keep spraying in the contract, said the mosquitoes were so bad last August that "you couldn't go out of the house, and after spraying the bugs disappeared." He added he knew family and friends who had West Nile and that it was a "terrible, terrible crippling disease."

The council voted to have Iverson, who said he favored keeping spraying in the "tool box" to control mosquitoes and West Nile, research how other cities control mosquitoes and potential higher thresholds to hit before spraying is done.

The discussion is expected to continue in two weeks at the next City Council meeting, as Iverson said he would prioritize the research.

The council members wanted to make sure they could add the aerial spraying back in after further research or if there was a serious concern about West Nile this summer.

It wasn't clear how the contract would work with Moorhead pulling out of the spraying, so that will also be part of Iverson's investigation.

Dead Monarch Butterflies
Dead monarch butterflies were found across the Fargo area after aerial spraying in August 2020 to control mosquitoes. WDAY photo

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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