The Moab Mosquito Abatement District’s new manager, Elizabeth “Libby” Nance, is no stranger to the local community. A longtime Moab resident and career entomologist, Nance describes her new position as a “perfect marriage” of her experience and skills.
“It brings all my skills to light and I’m really excited about that,” Nance said. “It’s also really exciting to have a professional position in your field of study in the town that you love.”
She has been on the job since longtime district manager Bob Phillips retired at the beginning of the year and Nance said she plans to continue the work that Phillips established during his many years with the district — a focused, efficient integrated pest management program.
Nance has lived in Moab on and off since the 1980s, and remembers “the olden days” when mosquito abatement equated to “fogging” entire neighborhoods with chemicals.
“That fogger would come up and down the city streets and spray ... We’ve gotten away from that,” she said.
Nance credits the shift in treatment protocols — as well as education regarding local mosquito habits — to Phillips, who implemented a science-based program during his 23 years as manager.
“My job is so manageable ... because [Phillips] took this program so that I have numbers, an arsenal, and I know how to use them pointedly,” Nance said. “He is the reason that this program is so effective now and has reduced our chemical input from the old days.”
Phillips advocated for an integrated pest management program, moving the community away from fogging neighborhoods and toward scientifically tracking and surveilling mosquito larvae.
“For mosquito abatement, integrated pest management means finding what mosquitoes we’ve got, where they are, their numbers, if their numbers are going to be a problem, and the most efficient way to deal with them,” Phillips told The Times-Independent in a March interview. “We’ve found 3,000 larvae per square foot of water ... If you can kill them as larvae, that’s far more efficient than letting them hatch and spread over several square miles.”
But creating an integrated pest management program in Grand County was not an easy feat, Phillips said, noting that he initially experienced resistance from some in the community. Over time, however, the district’s success garnered support for the program, he said.
“People have changed their attitudes because they’ve realized our program works,” Phillips said.
Although she promises to bring her own techniques to the position, Nance says she will largely take a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude towards the Moab Mosquito Abatement District.
“There’s nothing in [Phillip’s] program that’s broken,” Nance said. “Having said that, I will tweak certain things and I will bring my own style to the job.”
Phillips expects Nance to do well as mosquito abatement manager, and noted that she has familiarity with GIS mapping and is open to other technologies that could make mosquito abatement and data gathering more efficient.
“I’m old school in the sense that I graduated from college with a slide rule,” Phillips said. “ ... I think there’s the opportunity here for her to make things more efficient and up-to-date in that sense ... out with the old and in with the new.”
Describing herself as a “naturalist from the get-go,” Nance says she first “caught the passion” for aquatic macroinvertabrates, or insects that live in water, in graduate school.
“I’m interested in water — water quality, water availability — and insects in general are often very good indicators of habitat,” Nance said. “So mosquitoes align with my interest in water and aquatic insects ... It’s just something that I adore.”
And it’s in water where the mosquito district finds most of its work, monitoring and implementing controls throughout the 900 acres of the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve as well as the many seeps and springs, stormwater runoff areas, and other incidental bodies of water throughout Grand County.
Nance says the district has a “very strong arsenal” of non-toxic insecticides that are used to reduce mosquito populations. She says the district only considers spraying adult mosquitoes if West Nile Virus is detected in numbers that exceed a certain CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) threshold.
“We have two vector species in town that carry West Nile Virus. It started in the summer of 2003, and almost every year we’ve had it,” Nance said. “ ... That’s a major reason why we need a mosquito abatement district.”
Nance says the district also monitors for other vector-borne diseases, including Zika virus, which has appeared in Florida and Texas.
Although Zika is much less likely to occur in Moab than “our southern neighbors,” the CDC has asked mosquito abatement districts to begin monitoring for the virus, she said, adding that the risk of Zika is currently “slim” in Moab, but “anything can change.”
When it comes to mosquitoes, Nance encourages the public to engage in simple prevention, like installing window screens and removing standing water from property. Wearing long sleeves and using an EPA approved insecticide can also help when walking in mosquito prone habitat.
She welcomes any citizen to call the office at 435-259-7161 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the district.
“I’m happy to explain to any citizen our arsenal, how we treat, why we treat, and when we treat. There’s a sound science behind it and it should assuage anybody — pro-environment or pro-spraying — that we’ve got a handle on what we’re doing,” Nance said.
As for Phillips, he says he is glad Nance is now leading the mosquito abatement team in Grand County.
“I’m looking forward to the time when somebody comes up to me at City Market and says, ‘I’m being eaten by mosquitoes,’ and I get to give them [Nance’s] phone number,” Phillips said with a laugh. “I’m sure she’ll take care of it.”