By George Smith
Bangor Daily News column
This morning my Kennebec Journal came with a deer tick. I start my day with a cup of coffee and the KJ, seated in a comfortable rocker with a view out the kitchen window to Linda’s beautiful flower gardens. Opening the paper to grab the section that includes the weekly travel column that Linda and I write, I spotted a tick on the edge of the paper. Ticks are everywhere these days! Perhaps the tick was just reading our column.
On August 19 I spoke at a press conference in the Baxter Woods conservation area in Portland on the National Wildlife Federation’s “Ticked Off” report. The conference was sponsored by the Natural Resources Council of Maine. You may have seen a news report in the newspapers, heard it on Maine Public Radio, or seen it on the TV news. The press conference got a lot of attention. If you missed the story, Jackie Farwell of the Bangor Daily News wrote an excellent account that is available on the BDN website.
The news is all bad, and it’s almost too late to do much about it. Not too late. But almost.
Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, reported that deer ticks have sickened a record number of Mainers this year. Already. With four months to go in 2014.
Susan Elias, a clinical research associate at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, reported that by 2050 “Southern Maine’s going to feel more like Massachusetts, and northern Maine and central Maine are going to feel more like current southern Maine. What that means is the deer tick will be able to complete its life cycle statewide, and what that means is more ticks.”
Here’s what I had to say at the press conference.
Press Conference Statement
Last year I stopped arguing with folks who think the climate is not warming, and started to simply talk and write about what the warmer climate has already done to us – especially to those of us who hunt and fish.
I’ll focus today on Lyme and other diseases caused by deer ticks. Growing up in Maine, I spent much of my time hunting and fishing and never encountered a deer tick. Turkey hunting last spring, I was guaranteed to come home with ticks. Even though I am diligent, I’ve had to take antibiotics four times due to embedded ticks.
I wrote a series of outdoor news blogs earlier this year about deer ticks and diseases. Here’s what I reported in one of those blogs.
Tick, tick, tick: Three deer ticks before lunch yesterday – and one came in the mail! Yesterday morning I fished on my remote secret Smallmouth bass pond. Caught lots of fish, and took all precautions against bugs including ticks. Hiked out and when I got to my vehicle, leaned down to pull my pants legs out of my socks, only to find a deer tick crawling up my sock. Squashed him between two rocks..
Got home and went to the mail box to get the day’s mail. Pulled it out and found a deer tick on one of the envelopes! Squashed him too.
Stripped to take a shower, and like I always do, grabbed a small mirror to check my body for ticks. Sure enough, there was one on my backside. Luckily I could reach him, and he had only begun to attach, so I was able to pry him off with my fingers. Washed him down the sink.
Just another beautiful morning in Maine.
Sitting at my desk one morning, writing another of those columns about Lyme and ticks, I felt something on my leg under my pajamas. Pulling up the right leg of the pajamas, sure enough, there was a deer tick, making his way up my leg! Did it know I was writing about it? I carefully picked it off my leg, transported it outside, and crushed it between two rocks. Tick removal is almost an everyday task these days.
Two years ago I was attending a hearing of a legislative committee, when I felt a tick crawling up the back of my neck. I reached around and grabbed it, confirmed that it was a deer tick, got up and went to the men’s room where I flushed it down the sink. After taking my seat back in the hearing room, the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “George, what was that?”
It was a deer tick, I whispered. “Oh. Well,” he replied, “You should have put it on someone you don’t like.” Even I wouldn’t do that to a legislator!
There are many more – and many very serious – problems caused by the warming climate. I am especially concerned about the impact on Maine’s premier inland fishery – our native brook trout – that require very cold water. We’ve already lost this precious resource in southern and central Maine.
And Maine hunters were disappointed this year when the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife slashed moose hunting permits by 25 percent, in response to a study that showed devastating losses last winter to – you guessed it – ticks. They are killing our moose in alarming numbers. I don’t believe we will ever again get 4,000 moose permits as we did in 2013.
Exotic animals have established themselves here, thanks to our warming climate, crowding out our native species. And the list of problems goes on and on and on.
There is one important step Mainers need to take this November. We must vote for an $8 million bond issue to build a new lab at the University of Maine to facilitate economic growth in natural resource industries, and monitor health threats related to ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects. For the first time, if that lab is built, we’ll have a place here in Maine where we can quickly determine if a deer tick was carrying Lyme disease.
All I can tell you today is this: the Baxter Woods is a beautiful place – but you better check yourself carefully for ticks when you get home. They are here. And in southern Maine, 70 percent of them carry Lyme disease.