Feds decide to OK spraying at Bandon marsh

After a summer of outrage from local residents and pressure from the local congressman, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking the unusual step of allowing insecticide to be sprayed on the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge north of the city.

Federal wildlife managers never considered that restoring a salt marsh along the Southern Oregon coast would produce some many mosquitoes around the tourist town of Bandon and its environs.

But the agency issued a special use permit Tuesday allowing spraying on the marsh, which was restored to improve habitat for salmon and shorebirds.

However, with the federal budget tight, the agency can't pay for it, spokeswoman Megan Nagel said.

It will be up to Coos County and the city of Bandon to scrape up the money to do the spraying.

"We're hoping to put pressure on the congressional delegation so they will help us find the money," Bandon Mayor Mary Shamehorn said following a special meeting in Coquille where Fish and Wildlife presented the permit to Coos County commissioners. "It's ironic that (Fish and Wildlife) found $10 million ... to develop the marsh, but now they can't find the thousands of dollars it will take to fix the problem."

The Ni-les'tun Tidal Marsh Restoration is one of the biggest restoration projects the agency has undertaken in the state, Nagel said. Fish and wildlife opened the floodgates last summer that allowed tidal surges to return to 400 acres along the Coquille River that was ditched and drained a century ago, and until now was used for cattle pasture. The 76-page environmental assessment of the project does not mention mosquitoes at all.

"This was not known to be a management issue, so it was not accommodated," when the management plan was written, Nagel said. "Now that it's known this is an issue, the refuge is working to ensure this is part of our management plan in the future."

Steps will include making sure tidal surges do not leave behind standing pools of water, where the mosquitoes produce larvae.

The restoration has made life miserable for neighbors Dino and Linelle Kahmalane. They returned to their house near the marsh last May and were swarmed by buzzing and biting mosquitoes.

"We have to run to our car— literally run — then jump in our car and swat the mosquitoes," Linelle Kahmalane. "If we miss any, we have to drive down the highway swatting them."

They bought a device that attracts and kills mosquitoes, but within days it became choked with baked bugs.

"You could shake it and there would be three, four or five inches of mosquitoes in this plastic bag," Dino Kahmalane said.

Bob Whitman, a Eugene investor, was visiting a piece of undeveloped property near the marsh and was swarmed when he got out of his car.

"I haven't seen anything so bad since I had the misfortune to try to camp in Minnesota at the height of bug season," he said. "I can't imagine how people who live in that area can put up with it."

Bugs have not been bad in downtown Bandon, or at the beach, Shamehorn said.

But the problem became big enough at Bandon Dunes Golf Resorts, which draws golfers from around the world, that groundskeepers started spraying for the first time, spokesman Erik Peterson said. The resorts put out free bug repellent at the pro shop, along each hole, and with caddies. The problem eased, and they have not seen a drop in business, he said.

At Bullards Beach State Park, which attracts 100,000 campers a year and 400,000 day visitors, people have complained about the bugs, but attendance has remained steady, state parks spokesman Chris Havel said.

Fish and Wildlife was slow to take responsibility for the problem, but trapping stations on the marsh were turning up nearly 5,000 mosquitoes, most of them a daytime biter called aedes dorsalis, Coos County Health Director Nikki Zogg said. The bugs can fly 20 to 30 miles. The county has no vector control program, because mosquitoes haven't ever been a big problem.

Under pressure from U.S. Rep Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Fish and Wildlife agreed to issue a spraying permit, if someone would declare a public health emergency.

Zogg said while people were getting bitten all over, the bugs did not pose a direct threat of disease or death. As a result, she could only issue an advisory, and that was enough for Fish and Wildlife.

But no one knows when the spraying will begin, Shamehorn said. "First of all we need to find the funding."

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