Monday, September 3, 2012

On the importance of mapping, GIS, and communication.

So, I run the West Nile virus mitigation program for the county of Lebanon in Pennsylvania.  This year we got enough funding to have a summer intern.  Andrew is a great intern- he’s quick to learn, applies what he learns, has a good knowledge base, works well with me and on his own, and is conscientious in his work.  I better watch out for my job.  Anyway, I sent him out on his first solo sampling expedition.  I gave him a list of sites and he was able to use the database to find the location of each site based on the name.  The one site however was going to prove problematic.

That aforementioned problematic site was owned by the telephone company.  They had their equipment storage on the western edge of the property, but the eastern side of the property was a wetland with some intermittent springs and all wooded.  Perfect for some really nasty floodwater mosquitoes.  The database, however, did not show property lines and bordering on the west side was a hermit who is more than a little distrustful of the government and who lives in a shack.  Andrew pulled up, saw an overgrown driveway near his given coordinates leading up to what appeared to be an abandoned building with lots of junk around it.  Junk holds water and is great for several mosquito species.  That must be the spot.  So he sets the trap next to the driveway.

Andrew called me the next day when he was out collecting his traps.  One was missing. You can guess which one.  As soon as he told me where he lost it we tried calling the police.  But the borough and the state police could not agree where the borough line fell and both thought it was out of their jurisdiction.  (They didn’t want to deal with this guy either.)  So I told Andrew to just get the rest of the samples and process them, I would check on the missing trap. 

I pulled up to the property and called my secretary.  I told her where I was and who I was visiting and to call the police for me if I didn’t call back in 15 minutes.  I whistled loudly as I walked in and out popped the hermit.  I smiled and introduced myself and began by apologizing for the trap being set on his property.  I told him I didn’t give adequate instructions to my summer intern and it was my fault.  He accepted my apology and said he was glad to find people to took responsibility for their actions and if we ever needed access to his property again, just ask and he would be glad to grant it.  After a little more chit chat, since we were now friendly, I decided to ask about getting my trap back before I left.


“Why not?”

“Well, I’m awfully sorry about it now that I’ve met you and all, but when I found it I didn’t know what it was.  I just saw the wires and heard the buzzing, so I hit it.”

“That’s ok.  I’m pretty good at fixing things. Can I get the parts back?”

“Well, you can have what’s left. It’s over here in my shed.”

We walked over to the shed and he unlocked it and brought out the pieces.  Then I saw by “hit it” he meant “I shot with my 12 gauge using number 6 shot.”  There was nothing left of the trap except a battery and a plastic tub that held the attractant.  And even those had several holes.

So, what could I do?  It was my fault and he had done nothing really wrong as far as I understood it.  I laughed, thanked him for his time, walked back to my truck, and called my secretary.  And then I took the next two days to personally show every single site, along with their preferred trap locations, to Andrew.