Bug-infested Scott County: Is the refuge to blame?

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2013 - 2:23 PM

In some small part, it seems the answer is yes. But other factors are in play in the county’s hinterlands.

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The latest bug hot spot maps show high counts in parts of Scott County. Says Joe Wagner, it’s a “mountain of mosquitoes.”

Joe Wagner is close enough to the wildlife refuge that snakes along the Minnesota River to be able to see it from where he farms.

“I’m outside all the time,” he said, “and there’s a mountain of mosquitoes. Three weeks after a big rain, we are inundated. And meanwhile there’s hundreds of acres of wetlands that aren’t being treated at all.”

He is not the only member of the Scott County board who has complained over the years that a large and growing Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge — adding lots of acres and converting even more of them back to swamps — is growing a huge crop of insects.

In a summer that entomologists say is not off-the-charts bad but worse than some previous seasons, those grumbles are rising to the surface again.

Metro mosquito control district crews spend $17 million “and probably treat about 5 percent of what’s out there, and you cannot measure their results,” Wagner said, sounding about as heated as he ever gets. “What a scam! I love a great scam, and this is one of the best.”

The district, however, maintains that it absolutely does measure results, meticulously so, right down to weekly bug counts and charts and graphs correlating those counts with citizen complaints.

So are things really that bad in rural Scott County, and are the Purity Police at the refuge in any way to blame?

Yes, maybe, sort of, in a certain sense, officials say.

Taking them one at a time:

 

Q: How bad is it in rural Scott County?

A: Not so great. The latest bug hot spot maps, assembled from scores of bug traps left out every Monday all across the metro area, show very high counts in parts of the county.

Case in point: The peak within the county of numbers of human-biting skeeters one Monday this month was 2,096 in the vicinity of New Prague.

That was several times higher than traps near the refuge.

But the counts recorded near the refuge were themselves several times higher than counts recorded in some more populated parts of the county and the metro. Along the river, they tended to fall into the 600 to 800 range, vs. as low as 20 to 40 in some parts of Scott and Dakota counties.

 

Q: Does the refuge forbid mosquito control?

A: Normally, yes, said Richard Speer, the acting refuge manager.

“Our guidance is to allow populations of mosquitoes to exist unless they pose a specific threat to wildlife or human health. They are part of the natural food chain and help feed migratory birds, which feed extensively on mosquitoes and larvae.

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