Skeeters don’t like this ski town |

Skeeters don’t like this ski town

There's very little threat of mosquitos, and even less of West Nile Virus, at Aspen's Hallam Lake, even though the state's highest concentration of the virus is less than two hours away. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN Mosquito season is right around the corner and local officials are not worried, despite the fact Aspen sits within a two-hour drive of the state’s highest incidence of West Nile Virus.Aspen does not experience an explosion of mosquito populations every year, as do other parts of Western Colorado, and the few mosquitoes that do manage to live at the upper end of the Roaring Fork Valley are not the kind scientists say spread West Nile Virus.That distinction belongs to the Culex tarsalis, a hardy mosquito with a range that extends from Northern Mexico and the Baja peninsula northward, through the United States to the Canadian border.”We have a very low, low incidence of mosquitoes, and almost none of that particular kind,” said Nancy Mackenzie of the Aspen/Pitkin environmental health department.

She said the shorter, cooler winters here keep mosquitoes from breeding in great numbers.To keep track of the data, she said, local governments work closely with Colorado Mosquito Control, a private contractor, to monitor mosquitos in key segments of the Roaring Fork, Crystal and Fryingpan river drainages.Mackenzie said monitoring efforts have not detected any migration of the potentially deadly bug from the other side of McClure Pass, where a battle has erupted between local pest control officials and their critics.Delta County, an agriculturally rich region with a relatively benign climate compared to Aspen, “posted the highest per-capita numbers in the state for mosquito-borne West Nile Virus last year, in spite of aggressive and controversial spraying of pesticides,” The Denver Post reported in February.

That fact, and a campaign by a Hotchkiss property owner to end the spraying of the toxic pesticide malathion, have combined to feed a growing controversy surrounding the Paonia/Hotchkiss Mosquito Control District’s mosquito-control programs. Even the Colorado State Grange organization is supporting “integrated pest management” programs as a better option than widespread, periodic spraying.”This is a health problem. We need professional help,” said retired rancher Rosemary Bilchak, who, with her husband, accountant Gordon MacAlpine, used to live in Aspen and still has a home here. “We are in a position where we are poisoned on a weekly basis.”Bilchak and others opposed to the seasonal fogging of Paonia and Hotchkiss with malathion point to the numbers: The odds of contracting West Nile virus are 1-in-113 for Hotchkiss and Paonia residents. That compares with one in 3,417 for Mesa County, 1-in-6,800 for Larimer County, and 1-in-3,430 for Weld County.

They have argued that the Monday-night foggings by the PMCD are contributing to that rate by creating resistant mosquitoes and weakened human immune systems. But their arguments have fallen on deaf ears, as the PHCD recently announced it plans to continue to spray the Hotchkiss area with malathion, although it will be using a different, synthetic substitute in Paonia.Mackenzie maintained that malathion is “one of the least hazardous of the pesticides,” although she said Pitkin and Garfield counties both now use an “integrated pest management” regimen to control mosquitoes.”Our primary think is education,” she said. Her department mounts advertising campaigns that instruct residents and visitors about how to avoid getting bit by a mosquito when traveling to other regions, and how to reduce the potential for mosquito-borne illnesses at home by eliminating the bugs’ breeding grounds in standing or stagnant bodies of water.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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