The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

May 4, 2014

Ag department requesting funds for black fly spraying

Fly fishermen, whitewater rafters and other river aficionados are likely to have to stock on up on insect repellent this spring, as a budget shortfall in the West Virginia Department of Agriculture’s black fly suppression program has meant fewer applications of Bti — a pesticide toxic only to black fly and mosquito larvae — on area rivers.

Agriculture communications director Butch Antolini said his agency is taking a swat at garnering a budget supplement during the legislative special session in May, asking for $300,000 to finish the fiscal year and “stay on schedule.” Antolini said the department has  just more than $60,000 left in the suppression fund until July 1.

“That will allow for one more light application,” Antolini said. He said the agency is asking for $300,000 to finish out the fiscal year and “stay on schedule.”

The schedule is generally an application every two weeks in early spring when the water is cooler, and then once a week on the Bluestone, Greenbrier and New rivers as water temperatures rise.

The department more than 150 miles of rivers: The lower 12 miles of the Bluestone from Pipestem State Park to Bluestone State Park; the lower 125 miles of the Greenbrier from Clover Lick in Pocahontas County to Hinton; and a total of 21 miles of the New River, 12 miles below Bluestone Dam and 9 miles above Bluestone Lake.

Antolini said the fly concentration was greater last year because of heavy rains in the late spring and early summer, leading to more applications, as the Bti washed downstream with the river flow, ultimately causing the budget shortfall this year.

“Lots of rainfall creates an issue,” Antolini said.

When the new budget year kicks in on July 1, the Dept. of Agriculture will have more than $500,000 to restore helicopter applications to once a week on the three rivers. Antolini contacted The Register-Herald on Tuesday to correct a previous statement that said the black fly program was not budgeted for 2015.

In comparison, Pennsylvania’s black fly suppression program is administered by the commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Protection. According to the Pennsylvania DEP’s web site, more than 3 million residents benefit from the program in 33 participating counties. Those counties “participate” in a cost-sharing program with the commonwealth, although all administrative costs are shouldered by the DEP. The program is funded by an annual budget appropriation from the commonwealth’s legislature.

“(S)uppression activities are a result of surveillance and resident complaints, so depending on those factors, we may spray to a greater or lesser degree,” Amanda Witman, a Pennsylvania DEP press aide said in an e-mail. “The program provides an excellent service to residents and tourists alike by eliminating a nuisance that tends to keep people from fully enjoying the outdoors.”

Pennsylvania’s black fly suppression program now covers more than 1,500 miles of 44 rivers, and has been ongoing since the 1970s.

Witman did not have budget figures available Tuesday afternoon.

Black flies are not only a nuisance, but can cause human health problems, depending on the species of the fly and the individual’s immune response. Repellents provide some protection, and light-colored clothing that covers the entire body is also helpful in thwarting pregnant female black flies from feasting on blood to complete their egg cycle.

The good news is that a proliferation of black flies means the river is healthy and able to support insect life.

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