The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 24, 2014

Black fly program to target river corridor

EBENSBURG — To call the intrepid black fly a pest may be an understatement, especially for anyone on a golf course, navigating a river or sitting on a porch in the summer.

To this end, the Cambria County commissioners Thursday entered into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection opening the door for the state to provide black fly suppression spraying.

The county’s share of the deal will run $2,500 this year and will target the Conemaugh River corridor, the commissioners said.

“A lot of people reached out to us last year about black flies,” Commissioner Thomas Cher­nisky said. “Hopefully, this program will work.”

A high number of complaints came in from the Westmont area that includes Sunnehanna County Club, where black flies were present most of the summer, plaguing those attempting to use the golf course, Chernisky said.

While rivers and other waterways are especially troublesome, others at the meeting said they experienced black fly swarms through much of last summer in areas away from water.

DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said 33 counties were part of the state’s spray pro­gram last year.

“Much of our spraying is the result of citizens’ complaints,” she said.

“We go out and evaluate the area to determine if black fly is a problem.”

This year marks the first time Cambria County is participating in the program.

At this point the plan is to focus on the Conemaugh near the Indiana and Westmoreland county lines, Witman said.

The program is designed to address what DEP views as a nuisance.

“There is no threat to human safety,” she said.

The program, at its current level, monitors and treats 1,517 miles of nearly 50 rivers and streams in the state, according to DEP’s black fly website.

Reducing the number of adult black fly populations to what DEP terms “tolerable levels” during the spring and summer recreation season is the goal.

Spraying, done by helicopter, distributes a naturally occurring soil bacterium to selectively target only four black fly species that bother people, the website says.

While the presence of black flies has been recorded in Pennsylvania since the 1800s, it has been recognized in the state as a pest to humans and livestock since the 1970s.

“The recent expansion of black fly problems in Pennsylvania appears to parallel improvements in water quality,” the website states.

Attempts to make rivers and streams more hospitable to aquatic life have resulted in healthier sites for black flies.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on

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