Bob Phillips, longtime manager of the Moab Mosquito Abatement District (MMAD), retired at the first of this year after 23 years of service to the citizens of Grand County. Bob worked tirelessly, efficiently and expertly for the MMAD, bringing the district from a fledgling operation with little to no scientific expertise, into a fully functioning 21st-century organization. Most importantly, Bob single-handedly built and implemented a scientifically based organization for the purpose of mosquito monitoring and abatement.
When Bob began his career at the start of 1992, the then-MMAD was a horse of a different color. How many of us remember the “olden days” when the noisy fogger traversed the residential streets of Moab, dispensing odiferous clouds of malathion? An in depth look into historical records suggests that the trigger for this type of haphazard action was due in large part to many phone call complaints to the district, coupled with the philosophy of, “that’s the way we’ve always controlled mosquitoes in Moab.”
Bob saw this as a terrific opportunity to apply clear thinking and sound science to this outdated situation. To begin with, he set about actually identifying the mosquitoes that live in the valley — something never done before — as the first step towards understanding how to control them. He discovered and identified 17 species of mosquitoes that live here with us, and then proceeded to learn their individual ecology: What are their life cycles? Where do they breed? When do they fly? When do they bite? What is their preferred host? Which are truly pests? He developed an encyclopedic knowledge of their biology and ecology, and then researched the most effective ways to control them based on this knowledge. It turns out, that the old way of doing business — spraying malathion in neighborhoods at night — did nothing to kill the biting mosquitoes that flew in the mornings and early evenings, essentially making the old way of spraying an exercise in futility.
The facts from his tenure speak for themselves — and loudly.
Before he took over, the district was spraying, on average, 50,500 acres per year. Bob’s 23-year average is down to a mere 426 acres per year, which means that Bob has been abating mosquitoes where they actually cause problems, and not just randomly. Coupled with this, is his astonishing reduction of inputs into our environment, while maintaining excellent control. Prior to taking over, the district was applying an average of 1,956 pounds of active ingredient per year into our environment. Bob’s 23-year average is 7 pounds per year — yes, a mere 7 pounds. This represents a whopping 99.6 percent reduction of inputs into our environment these past 23 years.
This is spectacular data, and is Bob’s legacy to the citizens of Grand County.
But besides monitoring and controlling mosquitoes, managing a field crew and being the vigilant public servant who monitors arboviruses in the valley, Bob wore many other hats. Bob did it all — community outreach and education; computer science; he was the chief mechanic; the records manager; the building manager; and the head of procurement and purchasing. He worked with the Utah Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control on vector analysis, and did all the West Nile virus testing, and performed the duties of entomologist and specimen curator for the district. He also published scientific journal articles, sat on technical committees for the Utah Mosquito Abatement Association, designed presentations and did all the district’s employee training.
Bob did it all.
And has done it all these past 23 years with excellence. He has the highest of standards in all that he does — not the least of which is managing the district budget with a keen fiscal eye. If there was a way to save the citizens of Grand County money, in going about his daily work, Bob would find it. If something needed to be purchased, Bob would first figure out if he could fashion it himself. If not, he would go to his beloved WabiSabi to try and procure it there, before finally committing any tax dollars — and then, he always got the best deal possible. He recycled everything, so that the footprint of the district is truly minimal. Bob has a passion for teaching, and for seeing that it is taught correctly. He went about his day-to-day business always with an eye toward protecting the citizens of Grand County, incorporating the utmost fiscal responsibility, and doing his tasks with grace, humor, dedication, and with an incredible amount of attention to detail.
In true Bob form, he has outfitted his RV to be as sustainable as possible, and will be fulfilling a lifetime dream of adventuring to Alaska with his wife and partner, Peggy. We wish them both many happy days ahead, full of adventure, seeing new places, and collecting many new specimens.
On behalf of the Mosquito Abatement District board of trustees, we congratulate you on your retirement, Bob, and thank you for your many years of excellent service. May the wind be always at your back!
Elizabeth Nance is the new manager and entomologist for the Moab Mosquito Abatement District.