Lyme disease breaks out at the Maine legislature

deer tick largeIt’s a great bill addressing a tough disease, but it will have a tough time getting enacted, mostly because it’s a tax hike. I can only hope that legislators understand the terrible consequences of Lyme disease and the spread of ticks and other insects, and recognize the need for money to support the important work that would be funded.

LD 1099 has a long title, but it’s not as long as the terrible ordeal suffered by those with Lyme disease. An Act to Establish a Fund for the Operations and Outreach Activities of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Animal and Plant Disease and Insect Control Laboratory, would create the Animal and Plant Disease and Insect Control Fund to pay for pest management and pesticide safety outreach and education and for operating costs relating to pesticide management and insect control of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s animal and plant disease and insect control laboratory. Funds would come from a 20 cent fee on every container of consumer packaged pesticides, with some exceptions.

You may remember that Maine people voted for a bond issue last November to construct a new lab at the University of Maine, which, among other things, will be able to test deer ticks for the Lyme virus. LD 1099 would provide money to support the work of the lab, including testing and other work on deer ticks and Lyme disease. One important benefit of this new funding would be to subsidize tests of deer ticks to see if they carry the Lyme virus. We are concerned that if the tests are too expensive, some Mainers will not send in their ticks for testing. And that would be a tragic – and expensive – mistake if they come down with Lyme.

The bill was sponsored by Representative Russell Black and cosponsored by Senator Tom Saviello. I also received information about the bill from Senator Jim Dill. All are members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee which hosted the hearing yesterday.

Great Support

The bill has lots of support. The Maine Farm Bureau, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Wild Blueberry Commission, Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, and Maine Dairy Association all testified in support of the bill.

Rep. Black, who presented the bill, noted,” I would bet that almost everyone in this room has a story about Lyme disease… During my time growing up and working in Maine my entire life as a kid and young adult I never saw a tick. Now they are everywhere. I’ve recently had a number of turkey hunters tell me they are giving up hunting. They are doing so because of the times they get home from a morning of sitting in the woods and they find up to a dozen or more ticks on them.”

SWOAM’s Tom Doak said, “Our main interest in this legislation involves the portions that deal with education about and testing of ticks and tick-born illnesses.”

I was particularly pleased to see two ladies from Camden, Toni Campoamor and Kathy Ocariz, who had driven to the hearing after being alerted to it by my outdoor news column. While they did not intend to testify, I convinced Toni to step up and tell her story to the committee. Members of her family suffered Lyme disease when they lived in New York and since they moved to Maine (her daughter and son-in-law are Waldo County farmers). I thought Toni’s testimony was very convincing of the need for this bill.

Opponents were the Consumer Specialty Products Association, Wyman’s of Maine, O’Donal’s Nursery, and the Retail Association of Maine. Some of the opponents expressed support for the concept, with concerns only over a labeling requirement. I am sure the Committee will be able to address that concern.

John Rebar, Executive Director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, delivered exceptionally good testimony, updating the committee on progress on the new lab, and noting that, “We are committed to providing testing services to determine if a tick that is submitted to us is carrying the microorganism that causes Lyme disease. No facility in Maine does this testing. However, conducting the testing isn’t enough if the price is higher than Maine people can afford.”

Rebar presented a list of out-of-state labs and the prices they charge for testing ticks. They ranged from $50 to $175. He also noted that LD 1099 will fund pest management education for the public, another important project.

It was particularly helpful to learn from Rebar that a statewide consumer pesticide survey in 2014-15 with over 1300 participants representing all 16 counties found that the overwhelming majority, 83%, support a 20 cent fee on consumer pesticide products. 83% of Mainers rarely agree on anything!


This morning’s newspaper carried an Associated Press story titled, “Ticks unfazed by cold winter.” Reporter Mary Esch noted that deer ticks are not a concern only for those of us who live in fields and forests of rural areas. “We’re finding plenty of infected ticks in built environments, places like city parks, playground, work campuses, college campuses,” said Ralph Garruto, head of the Binghamton University’s tick-borne disease program.

Yes, this problem – and this bill – is important to all of us.

My Testimony

I’ve been writing an outdoor news blog for 4 years, posted on my website and the Bangor Daily News website. One of the three topics drawing the most readers each year has been Lyme disease. The first Lyme column I posted last year, for example, drew over 40,000 readers. Yes, people are very very concerned about this.

As I was working on one of those columns, I went out to get the mail and found a deer tick on one of the envelopes. Another morning, writing about deer ticks and Lyme disease, I felt a tick crawling up my leg! I wondered, did it know I was writing about it. Ticks are everywhere.

But help is not everywhere and that’s what this bill is all about. We need help. All of us.

You need to take ticks seriously. There are 14 different ticks in Maine. Dog and moose ticks are large. The other 12 are tiny and very similar. The deer tick that carries Lyme disease is now distributed statewide. Seventy percent of the deer ticks in southern Maine carry Lyme, while that percentage diminishes as you go north.

I have a lot of personal experience with ticks embedded in my skin and several friends suffering with Lyme disease. If you need to be scared into action, read my review of the book A Twist of Lyme at Better yet, read the book.

This story is gut-wrenching, raw, hard to read, relentlessly troubling. Subtitled, “Battling a Disease That ‘Doesn’t Exist,” the book is a collection of author Andrea Caesar’s blog posts as she fought the disease with astonishing toughness and determination. But don’t be fooled – there’s no happy ending. Caesar is still alive but her battle with Lyme will last her lifetime. For a legislative hearing a month ago on another Lyme disease bill, I wrote the story of my friend Harry Vanderweide’s long and difficult battle with Lyme.

And then there is the very sad story of Lyn Snow, a wonderful artist who lived in Owls Head. My wife Linda and I got to know Lyn Snow when she had a granddaughter in Linda’s first grade class. Lyn was a wonderful lady. As I wrote this testimony, I was looking at one of her paintings of flowers, her specialty. Lyn went to the hospital in November of 2013 to have a deer tick extracted, and died there of Powassan virus, something of increasing concern, especially here in the Northeastern United States. There is no known treatment of Powassan. Scary!

(I took one of Lyn Snow’s beautiful paintings of a flower to the hearing, to show committee members).

We’ll be turkey hunting soon, and I will be guaranteed to come home with ticks. If you discover and extract them quickly, you’ll probably be ok. If they are embedded for 24 to 48 hours, you’ll need antibiotics. I’ve had antibiotics four times for embedded ticks.

The most important advice I can give you is this: Buy a bunch of these small plastic spoons with the slit that can easily extract ticks that are embedded in your skin. Drug stores carry them. While the standard advice is to use tweezers, they don’t always extract the entire tick out of your skin.  And it is critically important that you do that.

It’s also critically important that you support this bill. Maybe even for yourself and your family.

And here is more testimony from my family, my daughter Rebekah Smith, with a story about my grandson.

Rebekah’s Testimony

My name is Rebekah Smith.  In my capacity as a Maine citizen and parent, I would like to offer my support to L.D. 1099.

As you know, Lyme disease is spreading fast in Maine and is a major health concern.  I live with my husband and two children in Union, Maine, in a home that we built purposefully in the woods with lots of area for the children, and the chickens, to play.  We got the chickens primarily for the purpose of tick control.  Although they do what they can, we still find ticks on our children and our dog regularly.  With the joy of spring thaw comes the trepidation of Lyme disease and the daily rituals of tick checks.

A couple of springs ago, our youngest son’s teacher discovered an engorged tick on his head. We believed it to be a deer tick and wanted to have it tested for Lyme’s disease so we would know whether or not our son should be treated.  We discovered there was no lab in Maine that could perform such a test but luckily I reached Representative Dill quickly and he directed me to the lab on Connecticut.  The tick was sent off that day but the results were not back for about a week. Despite the agonizing wait – we were so thankful to learn that the tick did not carry Lyme’s disease.

As our youngest son eagerly anticipates his first season of turkey hunting with his grandfather, we know that we will be encountering ticks, and tick bites, in the coming months.  I believe that the modest fee that L.D. 1099 levies on consumer pesticides is essential to helping the University of Maine Cooperative Extension perform the tests that it is able to but for which it lacks funding.   It is important that we address the growing problems of insect control by funding pest management and this bill is one avenue to do this.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer support for this important bill.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.