Meet our Team: Mikenna Smith

Name: Mikenna Smith
Job Title: Lab & Insect Program Coordinator / Entomologist

Where were you born/raised and what brought you to Teton County?

I grew up in Salt Lake City and did my undergraduate there. For grad school, I moved to Germany and thought about staying in Europe permanently, but a few months before graduation I knew I was missing the mountains and open space of the West too much.

I wanted to move back to the Western U.S. but somewhere I hadn’t lived before. I grew up coming to Jackson and rafting the Snake for family reunions. I remembered loving it so much that I decided to move here upon graduation. Living in Teton County has been full of adventure and community and I haven’t looked back since.

What has been the most rewarding part of your job or a favorite project you’ve been a part of and why?

Building the insectary in 2019 has by far been my favorite project so far. Many insectaries located at research facilities or universities are very high tech and can cost quite a bit of money. We wanted an insectary in order to maintain mosquito colonies year-round for research and education but didn’t have space or justification to build a truly state-of-the-art facility. With the help of some colleagues at other mosquito abatement districts I was able to affordably turn a closet of ours into an insectary with controlled temperature, humidity, and lighting that simulates a natural sunrise and sunset. It’s been a favorite project because it’s my baby. I had no idea if it was going to work or if any of the mosquitoes would even survive and reproduce. But through trial and error, I figured things out and I now maintain three mosquito colonies to date, one of which I colonized on my own, as well as two grasshopper colonies.

If you could rid Teton County of one invasive weed or pest, which would it be and why?

If I could rid Teton County of one invasive weed it would have to be Canada thistle because it is the most repulsive of the invaders in my book. The way Canada thistle can establish in an area as a monoculture makes it a nightmare to get through. This is especially true when these monocultures are in recreational areas. Even in double front Carhartt’s, those spines will find their way to your skin. I’ll take a mosquito bite over Canada thistle spines any day. I certainly have a significant bias against Canada thistle as last year I started releasing Canada thistle rust (Puccinia punctiformis), a host-specific biological control agent. I had to get up and personal with some very dense thickets in order to spread the agent as well as to collect data. If the inoculations are successful, I’d say getting all those pokes are definitely worth it.

What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?

My favorite thing to do in my free time is to recreate with my family and friends. After having lived in a big city before moving here, I always appreciate every chance I get to enjoy the natural spaces and recreational opportunities we have available to us in Teton County. I particularly love to ski, backpack in the mountains, play rugby, and be on the river.

If you could influence every adult in Teton County to practice “Play Clean GO”, which habit would you most advocate for and why?

I would most advocate for cleaning your gear when leaving an area and even double-checking that everything is clean before entering a new area. On so many occasions I’ve been recreating in the backcountry, in areas that should be pristine, only to find a trail of musk thistle along the footpath or an infestation of Canada thistle that is blocking stream access. These areas are difficult to access, and a spray crew is likely never going to get to them. If all the adults in Teton County were practicing good gear cleaning habits, we would all be much less likely to become vectors of invasive species into the
backcountry.