By Alanna Adamko, The StarPhoenix
Balmy summer-like days are here but the skies may soon be blackened with extra mosquitos.
In the provincial budget handed down March 24, about $1 million was cut from the province's West Nile virus program.
The West Nile program provided funding for municipalities to monitor and control mosquito populations as well as trap and test mosquitoes for the West Nile virus.
The pest management department in Saskatoon received $270,000 last season from the West Nile program to help supplement its staffing costs. Without the funding, pest management was only able to rehire 11 of the 23 staff it had last year. The rest of the staff was reallocated to different departments.
Geoff Mcleod, Saskatoon's pest management supervisor, said the funding cut reduces the number of areas staff can spray with biological larvacide to control the mosquitoe population.
"By having fewer staff dedicated to mosquito control activities, it will reduce our ability to hit all of the water bodies that mosquitos develop in, which then can lead to an increase in adult mosquitoes," he said.
Health Minister Don McMorris told reporters Wednesday the province will still spend $310,000 on West Nile surveillance. A further $60,000 will be used to treat any "hotspots" that may be identified.
"We figured let's keep the surveillance up, and if we see pockets of the mosquito that carries West Nile, we'll have money to put into that area," McMorris said.
He noted there was only one confirmed human case of West Nile last summer and less than 20 cases the year before.
Mcleod said it is too soon to tell whether Saskatoon and the province will experience increased mosquito populations and more West Nile virus cases as a result of funding cuts.
The mosquito population depends largely on weather: A rainy season will create more water bodies for breeding and a dry season will limit the water bodies available.
The West Nile virus is also only found in certain species of mosquitoes. The Culex tarsalis species of mosquitoe has been the principal carrier of the West Nile virus in Saskatchewan. Until tracking and testing results for the Culex tarsalis comes out later in the season, the extent of the West Nile virus in Saskatchewan won't be known.
City of Saskatoon pest management staff also deal with ground squirrel (gopher) control, wasps, Dutch elm disease management and other inspections for insect disease on urban forest and wildlife. With reduced staff, this affects all the pest management programming in Saskatoon.
Adding to the blow is provincial funding cuts to the Dutch elm disease cost-sharing program between the province and municipalities.
The funding, dependent on a municipality's size and number of trees, resulted in Saskatoon and Regina each losing $22,500 in funding they had previously relied on for the monitoring of and removal of diseased trees.
With money provincially only allocated to surveillance and no longer to the removal of diseased trees, Mcleod is worried the disease will spread.
"It's going to be increasingly difficult for them to do rapid removals on tight budgets. That is going to have an impact on the province as a whole," he said.