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Protecting pollinators while controlling mosquitoes

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Posted on: July 14, 2021

By Kim Seif

As the City of College Park undertakes community outreach in an effort to educate residents about the importance of protecting pollinators, mosquito control measures could conflict with that goal. 

College Park celebrated its first annual National Pollinator Week this summer. The city joined Bee City USA this year, a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness about pollinators and how to sustain them in communities across the nation.

During the June 15 meeting of the College Park City Council, Mayor Patrick Wojahn issued a proclamation for National Pollinator Week, which took place from June 20 to 26.

“College Park recognizes that human health ultimately depends on a well-functioning ecosystem,” Wojahn noted, reading from the proclamation.

The city held several virtual educational events during the week, including a webinar focused on pollinator gardens.

The College Park Bee City USA committee, which was launched in December 2020, organized a city-wide pollinator bingo game as one of the events during the week. Players completed actions on a bingo card and submitted photos on social media for a chance to win prizes.

Anahi Espindola, pollination biologist and assistant professor at the University of Maryland, as well as Bee City USA committee member for the City of College Park, said that events like pollinator week do a lot to educate the public about pollinators and their critical role in the environment.

Many College Park residents are curious about pollinators and the challenges they face, and want to be engaged in implementing solutions, according to Espindola, but they are unsure about what they can do to help.

“We need to realize that we depend on our ecosystem and, by engaging in these actions, we realize that we are not all-powerful and that we cannot engineer our environment,” Espindola said.

The decline of pollinators has been a global concern for several decades. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, one in three North American bee species is now at risk of extinction.

Habitat loss caused by climate change and encroaching development, invasive species, and our use of pesticides and insecticides are all contributing factors.

And while pollinator populations decline, mosquito populations in many regions are on the rise.

Many natural environments, including parks and even our own backyards, were not as regularly maintained during the pandemic, often resulting in more standing water and higher numbers of mosquitoes, according to Stephen Panossian, an agricultural inspector for the mosquito control section of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

There are around 60 different types of mosquitoes in Maryland, with the Asian tiger mosquito being the most prevalent.

The City of College Park works with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to control mosquito populations by treating standing water, where mosquitoes lay eggs, to prevent the larvae from developing into adults. The department typically does this treatment twice monthly during the summer.

According to the city’s website, the Maryland Department of Agriculture also sprays for adult mosquitoes weekly, using a truck-mounted, ultra-low volume sprayer.

Insecticides also impact pollinators, though, which concerns city residents who are interested in protecting these populations.

Panossian, who led a mosquito control webinar on June 17, along with members of the College Park Committee for a Better Environment, said that the department surveys neighborhoods using mosquito traps and that insecticides are used only in areas where the mosquito populations are becoming overwhelming.

“Spraying is the last resort when it comes to mosquito control,” Panossian noted during the webinar.

Panossian encouraged residents to purchase GAT traps from the city, which use water to attract and trap female mosquitoes, instead of using pesticides.

Panossian emphasized that the most effective means of mosquito control is to eliminate standing water.

Espindola stated that although the use of insecticides can potentially harm pollinators, there is a trade-off about what could happen if the mosquito population is not treated. Many, if not most of the 176 species of mosquitoes found in the U.S. may carry diseases harmful to humans and other animals. In the Americas, mosquitoes most frequently transmit malaria and yellow fever, but can also carry a number of other diseases, including dengue, Zika and encephalitides.

Espindola noted that the pesticides and herbicides that residents use, like ant and weed killers, could be far more harmful than applying mosquito treatment. Avoiding chemical sprays whenever possible and eliminating standing water are the best ways to promote the pollinators without getting bitten by mosquitoes in the process.

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