Read and follow directions!

The only thing conceivably more ridiculous than spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to spray pesticides all over 9 county parks in the hopes it will reduce the incidence of Lyme disease is  . . . to do that and not even follow the application directions on when and where not to spray.

Guess which version of ridiculous our all-Republican Board of Supervisors in Loudoun opted for?

Ignoring recommended procedure (and common sense) to limit spraying to actual tick habitat along wooded edges, the Board had 62 acres of open area in Franklin Park needlessly treated

As noted previously, the Board, falling over itself to pretend to be doing something about Lyme disease, rushed to divert as much as $20,000 of existing funds from the county Parks and Recreation budget to its new tick spraying crusade (particularly fearless supervisor “Ken” Reid, never at a loss for absurdity, boldly promised to “wipe out” ticks in Loudoun County)—but without bothering to ask such niggling questions as whether this was likely to accomplish anything (other than looking busy).

In fact, although pest control companies really like the idea of spraying parks, recreation fields, backyards, walks, shrubberies, etc etc etc, one of the few scientific studies that actually bothered to examine on a rigorous statistical basis whether spraying has any impact on transmission of the disease stated:

“Spraying was not found to be an effective strategy to prevent LD [Lyme disease].”

That result was in fact probably not very surprising, given that (1) you can’t possibly spray the entire outdoors; (2) ticks that carry Lyme disease have a complex 3-year life cycle, during which they feed on a variety of hosts including deer, raccoons, small rodents; (3) ticks, deer, raccoons, and small rodents move.

At best, spraying provides a temporary (as little as a few weeks) reduction in tick populations in selected spots at high cost and with serious environmental damage to bees and other beneficial organisms.

Still, if you ARE determined to spray nonetheless, you might at least follow the recommended procedure. The No. 1 recommendation from ALL of the experts is to spray ONLY along the edge of woods, where ticks are actually found, and not open fields or lawns, where they are not.

Here’s what the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station’s Tick Management Handbook says:

  • Treat tick habitat only. Spray areas where the lawn meets the woods, stonewalls, or ornamental plantings. Spray several yards into bordering woodlands, area of greatest tick density
  • In parks and school athletic fields, restrict any applications to high-risk tick habitat. Spraying of open fields and lawns is not necessary.

Other experts state that a “tick drag” should be performed to test whether ticks are actually present first, so as not to spray needlessly. And others recommend spraying only in late afternoon or evening when honeybees are less active to avoid the worst side effect of the spray, namely its “very high toxicity” to bees.

31 acres of open area (red hatched areas) at Mickie Gordon park needlessly sprayed

I finally got hold of the actual contract awarded to Blake Landscapes, which finished the spraying last week. The good news is that instead of flushing $20,000 of your tax dollars down the drain, the county got a great bargain and flushed only $10,359 down the drain.

The predictable news is that rather than limiting spraying to the “high-risk tick habitat” of edges where open fields and lawn meet woods—as recommended by the experts who DON’T happen to sell pesticides for a living—the county decided to spring for hosing down a full 196 acres, 164 of which consists of precisely the open areas that the experts say need not, and should not, be sprayed.

(These sprayed open areas are indicated as the red cross-hatched areas on the accompanying maps.)

Particularly lavish treatments were doled out to Franklin Park in Purcellville, which just happens to be the bailiwick of Loudoun’s No. 1 GOP Lyme Nut (not to mention creationist, Biblical literalist, and Christian home school advocate) “Chancellor” Michael Farris of Patrick Henry “College”: it got 62 acres of open areas sprayed.

Spraying just the edges would have cut the total treated area down to about 30 acres—and reduced the cost to $1,881. But spending $1,881 doesn’t sound like you’re doing as much as spending $10,359, does it?

54 acres of open area at Bolen Park were sprayed against expert recommendation

Defending this inanity to the Washington Post in an excellent article yesterday which quoted the Loudoun Beekepers and experts at Virginia Tech on what a really bad idea this whole thing was, Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) deftly countered that only 196 acres were sprayed, out of Loudoun’s total acreage of 330,000, and thus the harmful effects would be “minimal.”

By exactly the same argument, “minimal” would be an excellent description of the benefits of briefly reducing the tick population on 0.06 percent of the area of Loudoun County.

Where the Board of Supervisors wasted ten grand

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