SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. (Feb. 26, 2021) – Vermont's Endangered Species Committee took a decisive step today in upholding the state's endangered species law by declaring that a pesticide-spraying program in Vermont’s Champlain Valley is putting the state’s endangered bat species at risk.
The committee voted unanimously in favor of submitting a formal recommendation to the Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources requesting the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Goshen, Pittsford Insect Control District apply for a special permit that would mitigate the risk its mosquito spraying efforts pose to bats.
The district sprays chemical pesticides—malathion and permethrin—to kill mosquitoes along 190 miles of roads within its five towns. Sprayed after dark, the pesticides form an airborne mist of concentrated chemicals, which stays aloft near roads for hours. This threatens night-flying, endangered bats passing through the mist or eating insects contaminated by the pesticides. On a typical summer night of roadside spraying, the chemical mist can linger over 1000 acres during the same hours endangered bats are known to use these areas for feeding.
According to Mason Overstreet of Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic, the spraying violates a key protection afforded by Vermont’s Protection of Endangered Species Act. “The Act prohibits activities that create a ‘risk of injury’ to wildlife,” he said. “It also allows for a permitting process for economically-important activities to continue—albeit with modifications to mitigate the risk to endangered species. The legal conclusion is that the district must apply for this ‘incidental take permit’ to continue spraying in order to minimize risk to wildlife.”
Chris Fastie, a Salisbury resident and co-founder of the local environmental group Moosalamoo Woods & Waters, said, “An incidental take permit will encourage the district to reduce the risk to endangered bats, while continuing to carry out its mission of reducing the nuisance of mosquitoes. Today’s vote means that Vermont’s Endangered Species Committee agrees that the district is violating Vermont law—unless they apply for and receive a permit from the Agency of Natural Resources.”
The committee advises the Secretary of ANR on all matters relating to endangered and threatened species, including how to protect the species. The committee includes: the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets; the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife; the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation; and six members from the fields of forestry, agriculture, wildlife, and botany.
In September 2020, the committee heard a report from its Scientific Advisory Group on Mammals in favor of requiring the district to apply for an incidental take permit. Today the committee concurred, voting 6 to 0 (with three ex-officio agency members abstaining) in favor of submitting a formal recommendation to the Secretary of the ANR requiring the district to apply for a permit.
Five species of bats are included on Vermont’s list of threatened and endangered species, and all five have been documented inhabiting the towns in the district. These towns are known to include high-quality feeding habitat for listed bats as well as important maternal roosting colonies where young are raised during the months pesticides are sprayed.
A coalition of environmental organizations—including the Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Biodiversity Research Institute, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Community Action Works, Colrain Center for Conservation and Wildlife, Moosalamoo Woods & Waters, and Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic—submitted an expert report to the committee, concluding the district’s plume of chemical pesticides is highly likely to result in exposure and injury to these vulnerable bat species.
“The committee’s vote is not only an important step in upholding Vermont’s endangered species law,” said Zach Cockrum of National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Center. “These pesticides are used throughout the country, often with the side effect of harming bats and other wildlife we cherish. Vermont could set a national example of strong leadership in wildlife protection.”