Drought causes all sorts of problems, but at least one affected group isn’t likely to engender any sympathy for its plight.
The pesky bugs spend their pre-flying days in water, so drought tends to limit their numbers, said Matt Hutchinson, manager of the Baker Valley Vector Control District.
Hutchinson is responsible for controlling mosquitoes in a 200,000-acre, property tax-funded district that includes Baker City as well as much of Baker, Bowen and Keating valleys.
Hutchinson said the unusually dry spring — rainfall since March 1 is about 37% of average at the Baker City Airport — has had a noticeable effect on mosquito populations in the district.
“So far, trap numbers are lower than last year, with the exception of heavily flood-irrigated areas,” Hutchinson said on Wednesday, June 16.
Hutchinson and his crew set out traps — carbon dioxide, the same stuff we exhale, is the bait — to capture mosquitoes around the district.
The traps not only help Hutchinson track mosquito numbers, but he sends some of the (dead) mosquitoes to a lab at Oregon State University where the insects are tested for West Nile virus.
Last summer was the first in several years in which none of the several hundred mosquitoes tested from Baker County was infected with that virus, which mosquitoes can transmit to people.
Most people who are infected with West Nile virus have minor symptoms or none at all, but the disease can cause severe neurological problems and in rare cases prove fatal.
Hutchinson said that although mosquito populations tend to be lower during drought years, the scarcity of water can increase the potential for West Nile virus to spread.
That’s because the virus’ main host — birds in the corvid family, which includes crows, ravens and magpies — tend to be more concentrated around remaining water sources during droughts, and that higher density makes it easier for the virus to spread.
Hutchinson said the lack of rain makes one of the main mosquito breeding grounds within Baker City — storm drains — less of a problem. He and his crew distribute into storm drains a product that kills mosquito larvae.
Hutchinson encourages residents to check the district’s website — www.bvvcd.org — for spraying schedules or to report large numbers of mosquitoes.