Cass County defends mosquito spraying whereas the state investigates reason for mass monarch butterfly loss of life

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Officials with the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture said they are investigating the complaint-causing mass death of monarch butterflies and an online petition that collected more than 1,700 signatures in Wednesday, September 2 which have been encouraged to use less toxic pesticides.

The North Dakota Department of Environment requires mosquito sprayers that apply pesticides over cities to submit documentation prior to filing to ensure safe chemicals and procedures are being used, said Jim Semerad, the department’s air quality director.

These documents were submitted and approved prior to last week’s air application. Afterward, the residents of Fargo-Moorhead reported that they had found large numbers of dead monarchs and bees.

After learning about the dead monarchs, environmental quality officials went back to review the records and make sure the correct chemicals and procedures were being used as per label specifications, Semerad said.

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“So, from our perspective, basically the right procedures were followed,” he said. “But that didn’t explain the problem,” his department turned to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, which regulates the use of pesticides, to investigate.

“That’s unusual,” said Semerad, referring to the mass death of monarch butterflies after spraying. “Is it coincidental? Was it the season? Was it some other factor that caused it? We don’t want that to happen again. “

Erik Delzer, program manager for pesticides and fertilizers for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said his office had opened an investigation to review documents and interview those who carried out the mosquito air spray.

The focus of the review by agricultural officials is on determining whether proper procedures have been followed or whether there have been any violations of federal or state laws regulating pesticides.

“We are checking that there are no violations of the law and that they have made a proper application,” said Delzer.

Rebekah Haag from South Moorhead collected dead monarch butterflies on August 27th and posted pictures of them on Facebook.  She suggested that if there is future spraying to control mosquitoes, it will not if butterflies are common in the area.  Especially for the forum.

Rebekah Haag from South Moorhead collected dead monarch butterflies on August 27th and posted pictures of them on Facebook. She suggested that if future spraying is used to control mosquitoes, it will not if butterflies are common in the area. Especially for the forum.

The investigation will examine the application records, what pesticides were used and whether the applicators followed the label specifications, including the correct spray rates and concentrations.

If violations are found, civil penalties can include a fine of up to $ 5,000 per violation. According to Delzer, further “obvious” violations could lead to the revocation or suspension of the license.

“It has already started,” he said of the investigation. An investigation report usually ends within 90 days, although he added, “Sometimes it’s a week or two, sometimes it’s a little longer.”

Given widespread concern about the monarch’s death, results will come “sooner rather than later,” Delzer said.

When violations are found, officials can barely see more than enough to cite the violations, as records of pesticide investigations are legally confidential, he said. “There is very little we can say about this as these records are confidential.”

Environmental quality officials said the Minnesota Department of Agriculture – the spraying also took place in Minnesota – is “aware” of the monarchs’ deaths but does not know if the agency is investigating. Efforts to reach Minnesota Department of Agriculture officials on Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Ben Prather, director of Cass County Vector Control, which conducts mosquito spraying, said sprayers used the least toxic pesticide in their arsenal. Last week he told WDAY-TV that killing monarchs was an “unfortunate side effect”.

On Monday, August 31st, Cass County issued a statement posted on Twitter defending Vector Control’s mosquito spraying program. The statement said the large number of deaths coincided with monarch butterfly migration, but also claimed it was not clear whether the spraying caused the deaths.

“The timing of monarch migration is a sporadic event that unfortunately occurred during the last adult mosquito control application. We are working with federal and state resources to identify the cause of the loss of monarchs and determine if this is related to the application is related, “the statement said.

Spraying mosquitoes from the air last week was justified by the presence of the West Nile virus in the area, including in Grand Forks and Wahpeton, the Cass County statement said.

“Again, it is very unfortunate that spraying on adult mosquitoes can lead to the loss of other insects. We do not take this fact lightly, but significant efforts are being made to see if there is a link.”

David Brown, a technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association, defended the spraying of Cass County Vector Control in a letter to the forum publisher in response to a letter criticizing the spraying program.

“The products used by vector control agencies are formulated and dispensed at a dosage rate and in a manner that will target adult mosquitoes while minimizing the effects on non-target organisms,” Brown wrote, adding that Cass County Vector Control followed “established best practices.”

Prather told the Forum News Service that Cass County was in regular contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This has clearly become a very big problem,” he said.

The American Mosquito Control Association plans to meet with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this month to discuss the monarch butterfly – a discussion that Prather said was not sparked by the Cass County incident – because of the monarch that is considered an endangered species, this is taking into account inclusion in the list of endangered species.

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