Guest blog by Peter Helfrich, Bee City USA – Decatur, GA Chairperson
Since 2016, Decatur, GA’s Bee City USA committee has worked throughout our community to raise awareness about the important roles bees and other insect pollinators play in our ecosystem. Unfortunately, as much as we would like to spend all of our time sharing how urban environments like Decatur can provide critical habitat for these creatures, we often spend a good bit of time answering questions about mosquitoes — and how to get rid of them!
Decatur is located just east of Atlanta. In the summer it’s sunny, hot, and wet (Decatur received 66.24 inches of rain in 2020), conditions that are ideal for breeding mosquitoes. Obviously, public health is essential, and sometimes municipalities must take steps to protect residents from mosquito-borne illnesses. In Decatur, we’re lucky that neither the city, nor county or state undertakes any routine community mosquito spraying operations (e.g., via helicopter or truck). Instead, the problem we contend with is individual homeowners who hire mosquito control services to spray their residential properties.
This type of mosquito abatement is typically accomplished via insecticide barrier treatments. These are applied using backpack sprayers/foggers, or by installing automated misting systems that work a bit like lawn sprinklers. Regardless of the method, the products used are almost always broad-spectrum, pyrethroid-based insecticides. In addition to killing mosquitoes, these chemicals also are lethal to solitary native bees, managed honey bee colonies, butterflies, moths, etc. Because these barrier treatments are formulated to persist for weeks at a time, there can be a lot of collateral damage among non-target insect populations.
If residential mosquito spraying is so bad for pollinators, why don’t we lobby our city commission to prohibit it? Unfortunately, Georgia state law preempts lower municipalities from passing any laws, codes, or ordinances restricting the sale or use of pesticides in any way. Thus, public education and awareness have become the primary focus of our activities related to mosquito spraying.
We began our efforts by expanding the information section we have about residential mosquito spraying on our website and branding it in a highly recognizable, attention-getting way. We developed informative literature and made it available as a printed hand-out, and via electronic download. At our website, we also sell large “Mosquito Spraying Kills Bees” yard signs branded in the same toxic green color used elsewhere in our materials. Similar messaging and graphics are likewise used on our social media channels, linking back to the information available on our website.
Other elements of this on-going public education campaign include:
- Tabling at local Farmers Markets or native plant nurseries on Saturday mornings, and at Meet-and-Greets in Decatur’s dedicated pollinator habitats.
- Making speakers available for presentations to neighborhood associations and other community groups.
- Working with Decatur’s Environmental Sustainability Board to enact a formal Integrated Pest Management policy that emphasizes alternatives to chemical controls.
- Encouraging the public to report incidents of drift violations by mosquito spraying operators to the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Complaints and Enforcement office.
Like any good information campaign, we try to stress alternatives and explain what people can do instead of spraying (e.g., removing standing water, using targeted biological larvicides, cutting back dense overgrowth, etc.). For personal protection from mosquitoes, we use the analogy of protecting yourself from sun exposure and suggest applying mosquito repellent to the skin, dressing appropriately, and avoiding outdoor activity at certain times of day. In the future, we’re hoping to involve area retailers, who could create end-cap displays or place shelf cards to call attention to alternative products city residents can use for mosquito control (e.g., mosquito dunks, mosquito repellents, box fans, etc.).
We’ve also made committing to not spray for mosquitoes a central tenet of our ongoing Decatur Pollinator Pledge program. To date, some 105 Decatur homeowners have pledged to do their part to help keep their properties pollinator friendly. Little by little, all of those individual properties start to add up. Like so many other conservation efforts, we’re confident that achieving our goal of raising awareness about the hazard mosquito spraying poses to pollinators will be accomplished one person and one property at a time!