Will Becker, Dallas' Retired Mosquito Fighter, Returns to Battle West Nile

Categories: The Environment

WillBeckerPrestonHollow.jpg
Preston Hollow People
Will Becker in 2010.
I met Will Becker just over two years ago on a nondescript residential street near Bishop Lynch High School in East Dallas. I was writing for Preston Hollow People at the time, and had wanted to meet him at a fetid, swimming pool in North Dallas, but he refused to take me on private property, even if it was abandoned.

He was polite but matter of fact, a man of few words except when he started talking about mosquitoes and the gambusia minnows that feast on their eggs. For 37 years, he'd been stocking the city's abandoned swimming pools and forgotten culverts with the fish to help control mosquito population. He was in his 60s then. His clothes -- an ill-fitting plaid shirt, jeans tucked into knee-high gaiters, a tattered "City of Dallas" cap -- bunched oddly around his spindly frame. But this hardly slowed him as he dodged through a makeshift hole in a chain-link fence and hopped to the edge of a mostly dry creek, where he freed a few dozen minnows.

A few months later, Becker retired. He still loved his job as an entomologist for the city of Dallas, he told me at the time, but he worried that it was only a matter of time before the worsening budget began to eat into his salary. So he hung up his gaiters.

But now, with Dallas at the epicenter of the worst West Nile outbreak in U.S. history, Becker has been called back to the front lines of the mosquito war. His nephew wrote about his return in a widely circulated piece that blamed the current epidemic on the city, claiming it effectively stopped its minnow-stocking program and cut back on prevention efforts because of budget concerns.

City spokesman Frank Librio said that's not true.

"We've continued to stock and use the fish effectively since he retired in 2010, so they have been part of the abatement program all along," Librio wrote in an email. "That never stopped."

The article was right about at least one thing: Will Becker is back, as of early August.

"Will was brought back because he was the last one to leave that work group, and he already had years of knowledge and could jump right in and help," Librio wrote. "Also, he had the pesticide certification which is needed to drive the spray trucks.

I've tried getting a hold of Becker through the city's mosquito control department, but every time I call, the phone goes to voicemail. One presumes they're out hunting mosquitoes.

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4 comments
roo_ster
roo_ster like.author.displayName 1 Like

I, too, hope to one day be the old guy in the ill-fitting clothes.  I would be sad if they had run out of the standard-issue curmudgeon credits by the time I achieved "old coot" status.

bbetzen
bbetzen

It is great to hear that Will Becker is out actively working once again.  Today I spoke with another entomologist who at length explained how multiple environmental factors probably contributed to this mosquito crisis, not the least of which is the changing climate in the Dallas area.  This person did not want to speak to the media due to the complications.  I suggested that this issue does not fit into a simple soundbyte that the media could use. They said that may be one way to put it. Another view of this issue was just posted this afternoon at http://cityhallblog.dallasnews.com/2012/08/city-of-dallas-theres-no-connection-between-west-nile-outbreak-and-employees-retirement.html/ .

claytonauger
claytonauger

Circumstantial evidence certainly points to his absence as a factor in this year's sudden rise in the disease. When you combine that timing with the city's re-hiring, it's more damning. Penny-wise, pound foolish behavior by the city. 

willowdkr
willowdkr

Cool story.  Only in Texas.  (hope someone is working on a song about this very cool guy)  :)

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