Mosquitos love Florida budget cuts
James David's job of controlling mosquitoes in a part of Florida that Spanish explorers once dubbed "Los Mosquitos" is often futile.
But this year, the fight "feels like a sort of hand-to-hand combat," said David, the mosquito control and coastal services director for St. Lucie County in southeast Florida.
In the past two years, David's local government has cut 42 percent of mosquito control funding and a quarter of his staff. This year, the state slashed its contribution to local mosquito control by half.
Just weeks ago, with a line-item veto, Republican Governor Rick Scott closed a university mosquito lab that David had relied on for pesticide research.
All this comes as most local mosquito control officials agree the mosquito situation is the worst they have seen since 1998, when El Nino caused rampant rains and the pesky insects that come with them, said Shelly Redovan, executive director of the Florida Mosquito Control Association.
"It's a bad mosquito year," Redovan said. "And when you've also got reduced funding, it's going to be tough."
Florida's depressed property values and high foreclosure rates have left the state with fewer tax dollars to spend, and nearly every facet of public life has been touched as lawmakers try to pay the state's bills.
Yet effective management of mosquitoes has been so closely linked to the state's prosperity that mosquito control officials fear they are victims of their own success.
"We should never, ever forget from where we've come," said Angela Weeks-Samanie, an environmental specialist with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which administers the state mosquito control funds.
"In the blink of an eye, we could go back to where we were when Florida was uninhabitable."Mosquitoes have been part of the state's recorded history since the arrival of the first European settlers. The Spanish, French and English all recounted tales of sleeping on the beach, covered in sand, to escape them.
When Florida was being considered for statehood, U.S. congressmen debated whether mosquitoes would prevent it from ever being a suitable place to live.