Monthly Archives: February 2016

Zika Virus Threat: Don’t Double Down on Trouble

Editorial by Miles Benson.

First responders to any Zika virus threat in this country had better be careful. Very careful.

The worst consequences of exposure to the disease itself are scary. But those fighting Zika should avoid tactics that risk piling on collateral damage. Elected officials charged with protecting public health and also those appointed to similar positions in the numerous local, state and federal agencies whose job it is to combat health emergencies on the ground should also recognize and try to limit an additional problem. That concern is whether, and how much, any new chemicals employed widely against Aedes aegypt, the mosquito that carries the virus, will add to the toxic chemical brew that has been building up in the environment over the past 50 years of agricultural and industrial commerce.

1940's nostalgia. A time when we were encouraged to spray neurotoxins indoors.  Actually, I think we still are. Photo: Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 - 09/15/1945)

We’ve come a long way, baby? 1940’s nostalgia.
Photo: Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945)

The public currently is exposed to tens of thousands of chemicals deemed “safe” mainly by people making and selling them. A rising chorus of concern is being voiced by environmentalists who question the safety of these chemicals, particularly when they become mixed with other toxins the public encounters daily. Many fear that a half century of exposure to environmental contaminants is associated with neurological defects, including autism, memory loss, mood changes, disorientation, infertility and genetic anomalies throughout our population.

Horror Story

Today, Americans are watching a horror story unfolding across Central and South America where women infected by the Zika virus are giving birth to children with abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly, that is associated with incomplete brain development. While the public may expect that massive spraying of pesticides would prevent outbreaks here, the New York Times reported that the Aedes aegypti mosquito is “relatively impervious” to outdoor spraying. That might mean more reliable and perhaps more lethal chemical formulas will be deployed by manufacturers if Zika outbreaks here begin to occur and trigger public panic.

We live in a sea of uncertainty. Zika could spread to the continental U.S… or not.

In Florida, the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been around for several years and experts in and outside of government believe existing pesticide spraying practices, including what are called “adulticides,” pose no unreasonable major threat to public health. But a 2009 report by the state’s Coordinating Council on Mosquito Control, funded by the University of Florida, described in cautionary terms the trade-offs we may be facing: “Since it is currently impossible to predict the long-term consequences of human exposure to synthetic compounds, including mosquito control agents, a prudent strategy is for society to reduce all unnecessary chemical applications.”

CDC Zika Virus Prevention

CDC Help Control Mosquitoes that Spread Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika Viruses Fact Sheet

CDC Mosquito Bite Prevention Fact Sheet

Mosquito Control without Pesticides!

Virginia ‘Rabbit Proof’ Native Plants

Precious pink wiggly nose, slender silken ears, a fuzzy snowball of a tail  — all wrapped up in a cuddly but voracious plant-chomping package. Ahhh, our Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) are undeniably adorable but they can be destructive in gardens, continually reducing a plant of its foliage until it (the plant) runs out of energy and expires.

An Eastern cottontail nibbles grasses. Photo by Matthew Hunt/flickr/cc.

There aren’t any cottontails foraging in our garden currently — perhaps because we have a fox, a few hawks and a high number of domestic dogs and free-roaming cats in our neighborhood. Rabbits are certainly fair game to all sorts of predators. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries writes, “Cottontails have been referred to as the “protein pill” of the animal kingdom. They are perhaps the most heavily preyed upon game species in Virginia. In most years, 80% or more of adult cottontails are killed.”

I have seen the damage a few marauding cottontails can do so at the request of a client, who reluctantly surrendered his garden to the bunnies, I did some hopping around on the web and found that there’s very little information out there on native plants that rabbits find unpalatable. Our deer receive all the attention.

I then turned to the people who I could count on to garden with native plants: the Virginia Master Naturalists, Arlington Regional Chapter (or ARMN, my alma mater). “What non-woody plants do your bunnies ignore?” I asked. Their comments and observations were crossed referenced with the information I found online and the following document was generated. A checkmark indicates if the rabbit-rejecting plant info was found through the web, ARMN, or both.

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