Hayden switching up strategy to deal with ‘world’s deadliest animal’

Mosquitoes, responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other animal according to the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention, swarm at dusk.
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For years, Hayden has been working to mitigate the impacts of the world’s deadliest animal.

Colorado has seen a handful of fatal mountain lion attacks, and bears are to blame for the deaths of four people in the state since 1971.

But it’s mosquitoes that killed 11 Coloradans last year alone — the most since 2003 — according to state data.

The bloodsuckers are a problem that impact Hayden and the surrounding area worse than in other parts of Routt County simply because that area has more slow moving or stagnant water. The Yampa River widens as it dawdles its way west, often leaving larger pools that are ideal for the buzzing bug’s eggs.

“You’ll be constantly slapping, constantly dousing yourself with mosquito deet,” said Town Manager Matthew Mendisco, referring to how bad mosquitoes can get in the town.

Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek do not conduct any municipality-wide efforts to combat what some refer to as Minnesota’s unofficial state bird. However, Hayden has long taken steps to mitigate the needle demons, including the recent aerial spraying of a pesticide over much of the town three times a year.

“There’s a reason we do this type of treatment,” Mendisco said. “It’s not just for the sake of spending $20,000 to $25,000 a year. It’s because it’s hard to enjoy the park at night if we don’t do this.”

But this has often been controversial, with some residents not liking the chemicals used or wishing they could opt out of the spraying on their particular property.

“It’s been a big deal in Hayden for a long time,” said Erica Benson, a Hayden resident who said that each time the town would use aerial spraying, she would take extensive measures to shield gardens around her house.

“People didn’t have the option to opt out, and they were using a very heavy (chemical), which is super toxic if you ask organic farmers,” she said.

This year, Mendisco said the town is taking a different, more scientific approach to both track and limit the pervasive pests this summer.

Perhaps the largest change is with the compound itself, as Mendisco said the town would be using an Environmental Protection Agency-approved pesticide.

There won’t be broad aerial spraying either. Instead, the spraying will be done with a truck, a method that Benson prefers.

Mendisco also said there likely would be less overall spraying, and the town will utilize less invasive methods like treating notable areas of standing water to limit the skeeter’s ability to lay eggs.

“We’re doing surveillance in terms of types of mosquitos, just trying to get more scientific,” Mendisco said, as there are more than 45 species of the six-legged menace found in Colorado, but not all carry disease. “Also, (we’re) trying to balance the cost of everything and also be effective at what we’re trying to do, which is treat mosquitoes.”

The Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention says the incessant insects can be more than just annoying. They are responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other animal. The petite parasites carry diseases like malaria, lymphatic filariasis, and West Nile virus, an illness that killed 11 in Colorado last year and 91 since 2004, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said since Colorado started tracking West Nile virus in 2003, there has not been a reported case among a Routt County resident.

In addition to broad efforts by the municipality, homeowners can take their own steps against drill bugs, a popular name for the pests in Illinois.

Todd Hagenbuch, director and agricultural agent for the Routt County Colorado State University Extension office, said when people call to ask about what they can do about the so-called swamp angels, the answer is always the same.

“Eliminate standing water,” Hagenbuch said, adding that this includes water that may have collected old tires, clogged gutters or any discarded item that could retain water. “That’s the number one thing you’ve got to do, because there’s not much standing water in most areas of Routt County.”

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