The expansion of the Collier Mosquito Control District worries groups about nature reserves

Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve the border extension of the Collier Mosquito Control District, a move some environmental groups believe could damage nature reserves.

After hearing from the county and local environmental groups, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the border resolution, with Penny Taylor opposed to the enlargement.

The district expansion would include public and private land that is under conservation, such as the Picayune Strand State Forest, Rookery Bay, and lands held under the county’s conservation program.

Before:The Collier mosquito district wants to expand and could mean a new tax for some residents

Patrick Linn, the district’s executive director, said engaging these countries was a strategic move to protect human health.

“We need to get into those areas that historically have not bordered on development, where people are moving in droves,” he said. “You are now much more at risk in terms of public health.”

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It could take the county to exercise any sort of control over these areas for several years, Linn said. The district must first get to these countries in order to conduct research.

The district plans to almost double its size, which is currently just over 400 square miles. The district was expanded seven times between 1963 and 2003. Some of the new borders will include areas that are not protected.

Brad Cornell, speaking on behalf of Audubon Florida and Audubon of the Western Everglades at the meeting, said there was a strong consensus with scientists at the organizations that wildlife sanctuaries should be kept out of the extended boundary.

“We have strong concerns that this is a waste of taxpayers ‘money and runs counter to the environmental principles of conservation for which these lands were bought with public taxpayers’ money,” he said. “Our scientists have concerns about undermining the very bottom of the food chain.”

Lab technician Alexandria Watkins opens a refrigerator with locally caught mosquitoes in the offices of the Collier Mosquito Control District in Naples on Monday July 20, 2020.

Cornell said the district could do what it needs to do about research and collaboration without involving the public land.

Keira Lucas, the district’s research director, said these publicly owned land requires a management plan and the district will not cover the area with pesticides.

“Part of the reasons we want to get into areas like Rookery Bay is because these salt marsh mosquitoes migrate – they fly up to 20 to 40 miles,” she said. “And in order to continue with our integrated mosquito management plan, we would like to have access to these lands and work with land managers.”

Commissioner Rick LoCastro, who represents District 1, which includes Rookery Bay and Picayune Beach, said some of the pests are from non-residential areas and a more dynamic approach is needed to have a positive impact.

“I am very supportive of addressing this as long as we may not go too far in these environmental areas,” he said. “I think that’s long overdue.”

Meredith Budd of the Florida Wildlife Federation said the group supports mosquito control in urbanized areas and adjacent areas, but protected areas should be excluded from the proposed border.

Budd suggested an approach similar to the agreement the mosquito district made with Ave Maria.

“Perhaps if there is a need to spray in areas closer to the urban area within our state forests like Picayune, that could simply be excluded from the actual boundary and then an agreement with the forest service for assessment and spraying could be implemented accordingly,” She said.

Collier Mosquito Control District biologist Rachel Bales (right) explains the benefits of mosquito fish (Gambusia holbrooki) on a tour of the district's facilities as they tour the two 800-gallon tanks that hold the fish.

Linn said the county’s population is growing rapidly and the county should be ahead of the curve.

“We’re not grabbing land here, we’re trying to see the future public health threat posed by mosquitoes …” Linn said. “We think it is absolutely necessary.”

The district will seek a state legislature to endorse a local bill, Linn said. The district hopes the bill will move forward in the 2022 legislature, with the new limits going into effect October 1, 2022.

Karl Schneider is an environmental reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @karlstartswithk on Twitter

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