For the time being, the state is proceeding with extreme caution. Earlier this year Worcester circulated a petition around Lincoln asking that steps be taken to curb the new fly. In 10 days 600 names were collected in the community of 5,000 located on the banks of the Penobscot. "I'd have no trouble getting another 600," Worcester says. "In any community where these things have come in, I'm sure almost everyone would sign a petition like this."
In May, municipal officers from many towns in the new fly belt established a Blackfly Control Committee. State officials were invited to a meeting, an eventful one as it turned out. "We heard that some of the state people had been saying we didn't really have a problem," Worcester says. "Well, our meeting migrated from the Lincoln town office to Enfield, just south of us on the Penobscot, where we met outdoors. Now I have seen the new flies in stronger force, but there were enough of them to prove the point that day. Those state people had to bat them off. Most of them finally pushed their pants legs right down into their stockings to keep those flies from biting their legs. By the time it was over, they were willing to admit that we certainly have a problem.
"But those state people still seem more concerned about the salmon in the Penobscot. People have a right to live, too. Up here if you don't snowmobile in the winter, all you have for enjoyment is the summer, when you can picnic, garden and go to the beaches. Now, we can't even do that. The State Department of Environmental Protection has been strong against all kinds of air pollution. Isn't that what these new flies are?"
There's a good reason for the state's caution in moving against the new flies. You could call it the methoxychlor vs. Abate debate, and it's part of an international squabble regarding insecticides. Methoxychlor was invented by Du Pont, although the patent has now run out; it is a chlorinated hydrocarbon, of the same family as DDT but not as long-lived. Abate, made by American Cyan-amid, is an organophosphate, slightly more precise in its choice of victims and not nearly as long-lived as methoxychlor. Donald F. Mairs, who supervises Maine's Board of Pesticides Control, notes that "the World Health Organization has shifted from methoxychlor to Abate in the Volta River Basin of western Africa, where the blackfly spreads river blindness.
"Abate, mixed in a dry micropulverized formula, may be the safest larvicide. When the granules are spread on rivers and streams, they sink and bump along the bottom to be eaten by filter-feeding larvae, like those of the blackfly. A few other filter feeders, including some caddis larvae, would probably also be hit. But the bulk of insect life would survive. People at the Canadian Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg have warned me about methoxychlor. But there is a split up there, with the department of agriculture backing methoxychlor on the grounds that it is a little cheaper and has been very effective."
Howard Dean, an associate aquatic biologist for New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, has reservations about methoxychlor. After using it for a decade, New York scientists have found that it reduces many other larvae besides those of the blackfly, particularly larvae that fish feed on, or those which mature into insects that fish eat. DEC is studying the possibility that methoxychlor has adversely affected the growth and stamina of salmon and trout. For example, methoxychlor hits stone flies and mayflies, which hurt nothing and are fine fish food.
Dr. Ronald Wallace of Canada's department of environment, who has been studying both chemicals for years, advises Maine officials to wait a couple of years before using any pesticide. Dr. Wallace theorizes that when polluted areas are cleaned up, aggressive species tend to dominate temporarily. He believes that in time the natural growth of other competitive and predatory invertebrates will reduce or moderate the blackfly population explosion.
While Maine officials debated, two towns in the new fly belt—Orono and Old Town—applied to the pesticides board for permission to experiment with methoxychlor against the new flies in a 100-square-mile area. The man who drew up the application was McDaniel. "There's no question that Dr. McDaniel is one of the world's leading authorities on blackflies and mosquitoes," Scott says, "but I'd have to question how knowledgeable he is in the field of insecticides to control the flies."
Because of some errors and omissions in the application presented to Don Mairs' pesticides board, state officials were able to summarily reject it.
Subsequently, the town of Dover-Fox-croft submitted a similar application, also prepared by McDaniel but with two notable revisions. First, it called for the use of either Abate or methoxychlor and, second, the experimental area was reduced to approximately four square miles. The Dover-Foxcroft application was shelved.