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Waging a One-Woman War Against Black Flies

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Waging a One-Woman War Against Black Flies


Waging a One-Woman War Against Black Flies

Waging a One-Woman War Against Black Flies

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Each spring, nature deals parts of the rural North a cruel fate: the arrival of black flies. But Andrea Malik, a resident of northern New York, bushwhacks into the deepest woods to fight back with a pesticide that kills only black flies and mosquitoes.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Each spring, nature deals parts of the rural North a cool blow. Just when the snow is gone and the sun is warming things up, the black flies appear. Black fly bites, itch and hurt and ooze and are just plain awful. A woman in northern New York State is fighting back.

North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein has this profile.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: It's an early spring morning in the town of Colton, some 30 miles from the Canadian border. A chilly mix of rain and sleet falls from a slate gray sky. Andrea Malik slogs through a wide beaver marsh in camouflage rain gear and rubber boots. Her husky mix, Jasper, follows along.

Andrea's a swarthy five-foot-three, and a reputation's much bigger. Her nicknames include Wild Wolf, then Crazy Wolf. For 22 years, she has led a crew that takes it to black flies on their home turf. She scrambles to the beaver dam and returns with an inch-long worm squirming on the tip of her finger.

That's a larvae right there.

Ms. ANDREA MALIK (Director, Town of Colton Black Fly Control Program): That's a black fly larva. And you see, this is the head end. And you can see those fans or mouth brushes, that's what it uses to collect food.

SOMMERSTEIN: Black flies are a surprisingly easy target, if you catch them at the right time. They hatch only in moving water because they rely on the current to bring them food. Andrea uses that current to feed them a bacteria called BTI. She carefully measures out a dose into a sprayer bottle. It looks like chocolate milk and smells like Ovaltine.

Ms. MALIK: Here's a real pressurized sprayer, and it just really helps distribute it.

SOMMERSTEIN: 40-pound pack on her back, Andrea balances nimbly on the beaver dam. Weaving through a thicket of tag alders, spraying as she goes. The going's easier at the far shore. Andrea motors over rocks, side steps holes, moving like a running back. Jasper trots ahead. Andrea pauses among tawny grasses to show me her owl call.

(Soundbite of owl call)

SOMMERSTEIN: Sometimes they'll come -

Ms. MALIK: I've had them - yes, called them in. They come over and check me out, yeah. It's pretty cool.

SOMMERSTEIN: She and Jasper both do coyote howls.

(Soundbite of howling)

SOMMERSTEIN: It's kind of hard to make sense of this. Here's a woman so clearly in love with the natural world, dedicating her life to killing a fly just because it's a nuisance. After decades of study, BTI has been shown to affect almost exclusively black flies. But some people bristle at the idea of tinkering with the web of life. Andrea says the BTI program is an alternative. It replaced aerial spraying of much more dangerous chemicals.

Ms. MALIK: People want the black flies controlled, and this is the best method. So I believe that that way and I'm love being out here. I love being in nature.

SOMMERSTEIN: So what would happen if we did nothing?

Ms. MALIK: There's going to be black flies flying around, you know.

SOMMERSTEIN: But there are black flies flying around.

Ms. MALIK: Not in Colton. They may come to Colton during the black fly season. Come to Colton and you'll see the difference.

SOMMERSTEIN: Andrea Malik's program works so well, town leaders coined another nickname for her - the black fly diva of Colton.

For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in northern New York.

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