Even-more mindless spraying

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ latest publicity stunt in its effort to pretend to be “targeting” Lyme disease turns out to be even more inane and ill-planned than we realized.

Among the county parks slated shortly to be hit with pesticide spraying, in a supposed effort to safeguard visitors from encountering ticks, is (as we reported earlier this week) Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. The idea of hosing down a nature preserve with chemical pesticides probably strikes most people as ridiculous, to say the least. But it’s even more absurd, given that just last month (does ANYONE pay attention to these things in our county government leadership???), Banshee Reeks was granted certification by the Audubon Society and Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy as a recognized Wildlife Sanctuary, based on, among other things . . . the elimination of pesticide use.

The whole misbegotten Lyme disease program our all-Republican Bard launched last year, at the urging of some very strange activists in the far right wing of the local party, has been characterized from the start by hugely wasteful spending, virtually no scientific knowledge or input, the issuance of flat-out scientifically incorrect statements, and even the official promotion of some wacko quack medicine. It has been a colossal embarrassment and has not done a thing to actually make a difference to public health in reality.

But particularly ludicrous is the idea that the county can be encapsulated in some chemically created protective bubble against ticks. Most sane people recognize that if you go into the woods, you face certain small but significant hazards: mosquitoes that carry encephalitis and West Nile virus; copperheads and other poisonous snakes; chiggers and other biting insects; bees and wasps and hornets; poison ivy . . . and that personal responsibility — and not the nanny state, or a wholesale assault on nature with chemical poisons — is the way to protect yourself against these risks. All of the real science about Lyme disease points to an overwhelming fact: the best and indeed the only truly effective way to reduce Lyme disease transmission is for individuals to use an insect repellant containing DEET when walking through tick habitat and to check themselves for ticks daily and remove any they find.

But our Board has already wasted more than $10,000 spraying county parks with chemical pesticides in a completely wrong-headed, ineffective, and environmentally damaging stunt that has accomplished one thing only: making them look busy to the politically powerful GOP Lyme zealots like local Republican honcho, home-schooling right-wing Christian extremist, and evolution-denier Michael Farris (who has actually asserted of Lyme disease, “I think it’s the greatest health threat of our time”—more so than AIDS, cancer, heart disease . . .).

It would be one thing if there were a scrap of evidence that spraying works. But all the evidence shows it does nothing to reduce Lyme transmission rates (unsurprising, since ticks, and the deer and rodents that carry them, move). Moreover, most people who contract Lyme disease get it literally in their own backyards (unsurprising, since they spend a lot more time there than in a park).

Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) has tried to justify the ridiculous park spraying as a “pilot program.” But a “pilot program” is something you try on a small scale to test whether it works. There is absolutely zero effort being made by the county under this program even to determine (a) whether ticks are present before spraying and (b) what effect the spraying has.

Once again, the Board has shown that all of its talk about being “businesslike” and assessing “cost effectiveness” and “core functions of government” goes out the window when they think there’s a political edge to be gained.

And have they once, since taking office, ever actually held a public hearing to seek genuine advice, to gather expert testimony and information, to ascertain what the public wants? Have they ever approached any topic with an open mind, a little humility, and a willingness to listen and even learn? Instead, they have shot from the hip, rammed through secretly arranged motions with no public warning, attacked and vilified those who have dared to question their infallible judgment, and tried to sell the public a bill of goods after the fact.

Banshee Reeks is a small park and it’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things. But it goes right to the heart of everything that’s wrong with the way our all-Republican Board in Loudoun does business: no cost-benefit analysis, no building consensus among all affected groups, no seeking out expert knowledge, no listening to anyone but the backroom string pullers in the Loudoun GOP machine that call the shots.

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