Pennsylvania Launches Annual Black Fly Suppression Program to Enhance Outdoor Experience

Black fly© janeenga / Pixabay

HARRISBURG, PA — With the arrival of warmer weather and the promise of outdoor activities, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has initiated its 2024 Black Fly Suppression Program. This year’s effort will see monitoring and treatment across more than 1,800 miles of rivers and streams, encompassing 48 waterways throughout the state.

The program, as described by DEP Acting Secretary Jessica Shirley, aims to mitigate the nuisance caused by black flies, also known as biting gnats. “This annual treatment program reduces this nuisance so that Pennsylvanians and visitors can fully enjoy outdoor activities,” Shirley stated, highlighting the goal of making outdoor spaces more pleasant for everyone.

Utilizing both aerial and backpack spraying tactics, the DEP plans to cover extensive ground to maximize the program’s reach. Helicopter treatments, a significant component of the program, involve flying low over targeted waterways and releasing a treatment material that bears a striking resemblance to chocolate milk.

At the heart of this initiative is Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), a naturally occurring bacterium used to target the larval stage of four specific species of black flies. Bti is celebrated for its environmental friendliness; it degrades quickly in nature and poses no risk to fish, humans, birds, or other insects. Its specificity ensures that the suppression efforts do not disrupt the broader aquatic ecosystem.

The frequency and timing of treatments are carefully planned, taking into consideration various environmental factors. Weather and biological conditions significantly influence the effectiveness of Bti applications. For instance, treatments are paused during heavy rain or high water levels, as such conditions can dilute the treatment material and inflate operational costs.

To keep the public informed and alleviate any concerns regarding the operation, the DEP proactively communicates with county and local emergency management officials ahead of any spraying activity. The sight of helicopters and ground crews—equipped with backpack sprayers working off bridges or wading through streams—is a clear sign of the ongoing black fly control efforts.

Residents who spot these activities and seek confirmation can contact their county emergency management office. The DEP also provides updates on the Vector Management Program website, including a schedule of spray notifications that may adjust based on atmospheric and aquatic conditions.

This suppression program stands as a crucial intervention to enhance the quality of outdoor experiences across Pennsylvania. By tackling the black fly problem head-on, the DEP ensures that residents and tourists alike can engage in recreational activities without the deterrent of these persistent pests.

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