Saving the Greenhead

FOBB wins a round from new Administration

Black Dog McFarland

Anticipation ran high on Tuesday afternoon at the Rye chapter office of FOBB, an acronym for Friends of Biting Bugs. An important decision from the Obama administration was due that very afternoon. It was a widely anticipated decision, one that could set the tone for the next four years' policies.

At 4:22 in the afternoon the phone rang, and Herona Bittern, the chapter president, grabbed it immediately.

As she listened a broad smile crept across her face. The others in the room watched her anxiously. When she hung up, she leapt from her chair. “We’re in!” she yelled and pandemonium broke loose. High fives and head butts resounded throughout the room.

The salt marsh greenhead fly, also known as Tabanus nigrovittatus, had been added to the endangered species list.


Greenhead fly. (Leigh Hall photo)


This had been a tough struggle for FOBB. Their first efforts to get the salt marsh greenhead recognized as an endangered species occurred during the first Bush administration It seemed destined for success until then President George H.W. Bush got wind of it. No doubt due to the proximity of his Kennebunkport property to salt marshes the impetus suddenly lost all momentum and died somewhere in the Washington bureaucracy.

FOBB revived their efforts during the Clinton years. They filed simple paperwork with the Department of Environmental Protection and in return received volumes of material to make out involving documentation as to why the salt marsh greenhead was endangered.

It was then that Ms. Bittern first conceived the idea of rolling the issue of greenhead endangerment into other popular efforts of the day, the green movement and global warming.

She hired a company from New Jersey called Envirotechnographics to assess the health of the greenhead population and its effects on the overall environment of Seacoast areas and their animal and human populations.

Envirotechnographics sent three of their crack scientists to Rye during the summer months of 1997 and 1998. They labored diligently, measuring wind speeds and directions, sunlight, greenhead populations, and enough other data to nearly fill their computer files. In the end, they were able to prove without a doubt that greenhead flies significantly affect the climate of seaside communities in two important ways.

The first way is that there is no question that large numbers of greenheads result in the cooling of the atmosphere, a fact which has a measurable positive influence on the problem of global warming. Thousands of little wings beating at hundreds of times per second, create a cooling wind which negates at least one percent of the sun’s solar energy on a typical July day.

Unfortunately, Envirotechnographics also found that the human population was creating a negative environmental impact by swatting and killing greenheads, which have an unfortunate predilection for biting. After being swatted, a typical greenhead would fall to the sand on the beach and lie there for up to six days, slowly decomposing and adding CO2 to the atmosphere. We all know that CO2 has a role in global warming.

Intricate measurements performed by Envirotechnographics proved with certainty that the killing of greenheads produced a negative impact for the environment, and when coupled with the reduction in cooling provided by the greenhead population’s beating wings, the effect was amplified considerably.

It was then that the most devastating event occurred. One of Envirotechnographic’s scientists, having consumed a large quantity of beer while performing his research on the beach, stumbled across Route 1-A looking for a place to relieve his bladder.

He decided to aim his stream at one of the four legs which supported a mysterious  little black box that he found positioned behind a small clump of trees in the marsh. The smirk on his face was the mask for his thought of revenge on a neighborhood black Lab that frequently dampened one leg of his picnic table at home. He then looked closer at the structure. Imagine his consternation and alarm when he discovered that the little black box contained the bodies of hundreds and hundreds of salt marsh greenheads.

He raced back to the beach and summoned his colleagues from their warm blanket. Desperately they clawed open the black box. Frantically they pawed through the carnage. For all their efforts they could not find a single survivor.

The next day FOBB held an emergency meeting. Envirotechnographics reported to Ms. Bittern and the concerned volunteers of FOBB that greenheads were taking casualties at a rate that would soon result in their extinction. An army of volunteers was mustered, and they spread out through communities that bordered salt marshes throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic states.

Their findings mirrored the events in Rye almost perfectly. Greenheads were dying in uncounted numbers all over the northeastern United States. The black boxes were doing their jobs with deadly results. Given the rapid and complete destruction of the greenhead population the effects on global warming could be devastating.

FOBB redoubled their efforts to complete the needed paperwork. Sadly, and unbeknownst to them, the next election would bring another Bush to the White House, a Bush who was also familiar with the vicious bite of the greenhead.

The paperwork could not be completed in time. Eight long years passed, and they were times that were decidedly unfriendly to the greenhead population. Every year the slaughter on the marshes continued. FOBB sat on their paperwork, hoping against hope that events would soon be on their side. After the results of the 2008 elections became known, they sent their long completed request in, stamped with a great big EMERGENCY!

Thus began the celebration at FOBB headquarters. The champagne was just being broken out when the phone rang again. Ms. Bittern picked it up, and slowly an incredulous look came to her face. She mostly listened, but every once in a while she nodded or muttered an “uh huh.”

When she hung up she jumped up on her desk and demanded quiet and order in the room.
She began to speak.

“Not only have greenheads been placed on the endangered species list,” she announced, “but the EPA is taking several emergency steps to assure their survival. They have authorized a seventy million dollar expansion of the Seacoast Science Center with the intention of studying the sexual habits of the salt marsh greenhead. They have authorized the National Guard to go to every salt marsh in the northeastern United States with the intent of removing all those black boxes. They are launching a feasibility study. They want to find out if it would be possible to turn those World War II bunkers at Ford Dearborn into safe houses for greenheads. Finally, they have persuaded a Massachusetts senator to sponsor legislation making it a federal crime to kill a greenhead. This will even include greenheads in the process of biting a human being.”

Ms. Bittern smiled smugly.

“Obviously these events will mean the end of the stupid government boondoggle to build a four-lane superhighway to the Isles of Shoals (See Rye Reflections' April issue). Highway construction of that magnitude would have a serious impact on greenhead habitat.”

The crowd applauded, and sipped champagne. Gradually things quieted down as the champagne bottles emptied.

Contributions for the preservation of the salt marsh greenhead can be sent to Black Dog McFarland, care of Rye Reflections.



February, 2009
See Letters in March, 2009



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