District swatting mosquito menace for a half-century
While not a particularly wet winter, May 1968 tied for the ninth wettest on record, perfect conditions for hordes of breeding mosquitoes.
One of their victims was veterinarian Dr. Keith Cornforth, who was spending as much time swatting the bloodsuckers as he was artificially inseminating cows.
“These mosquitoes are so bad, I can’t do my job,” he said. “We have got to do something.”
On March 6, 1969, not only were those calves being born, so was the Douglas County Mosquito Abatement District.
County commissioners limited the district to the 456 square miles in Carson Valley.
Cornforth, Ray Borda, Dal Byington, Phil McKinnon and Jim Stratton were named to the first board. McKinnon became the first district employee, who was tasked with finding the dampest areas in the Valley and treating mosquitoes, despite not having any equipment or materials to do the job.
The first district manager was school teacher Ron Lynch, who was handed a box with a book on identifying mosquitoes and a dipper.
“Ron didn’t even know what a mosquito larvae or pupa looked like,” District Manager Krista Jenkins said. “The learning curve had begun. Ron the teacher became the student and learned all he could about the mosquito business. He has been with the district for 50 years.”
Lynch set up headquarters in his laundry room. The county loaned him an old Scout 4×4 and Roy Godecke let Lynch use his old dynamite shed to store his chemicals.
The district started out on a shoestring, with a $3,000 loan from the county and $1,500 from the Town of Minden. Property taxes in March 1970 raised $11,426, which was enough to buy materials, but not to apply them.
“Ron knew that he could not treat the whole Valley with a backpack sprayer,” Jenkins said.
Lynch struck a deal with Al Plume who used his Pawnee to do aerial spraying at $75 an hour, a far cry from the $780 it costs the district for fixed wing and $1,600 for helicopter spraying.
When Lynch bought the district’s first fogger in 1977 for $2,695, the district’s tax rate was 5.48 cents per $100 assessed evaluation. That was actually higher than the district’s current 3.45-cent rate, which is the third lowest in the county.
“Considering how much area we must cover and how many people we must protect now, it would be nice to be at the old rate,” Jenkins said.
The district’s first building was constructed at Minden-Tahoe Airport in 1990 for $40,850. The district has four buildings at the airport, the last being built in 2014 for $150,000.
Jenkins said the district’s second employee, Jim Perry, was hired in 1998. She came to work for the district in 2007.
In 2004, the district’s mission became more urgent when the first crow was found dead from West Nile Virus.
Not long after magpies and an owl were found dead.
The following summer, the first case of human West Nile was diagnosed.
“That’s when the district started picking up positive mosquitoes,” Jenkins said. “It took a couple of years to determine that West Nile was here to stay. Almost every year since there have been mosquitoes that have tested positive. That is why we must stay vigilant in our program.”
Today the district has grown to a half dozen vehicles, two Kubotas, a side-by-side, four foggers, three gas-powered backsprayers, a boat, a LiteTrax machine and five trailers. It has two full-time employees and a half dozen seasonal employees.
Jenkins said the district sprays for 16 different varieties of mosquitoes, five of which are West Nile carriers.
The next step will be to explore the use of a drone for larvacide treatments, which could be in place by next year.