Daniel Huff has found the perfect job to combine his loves of public health and insects: executive director of the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District.
Huff, the former assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, started his new job last week.
“I love where science and real-world solutions meet,” said Huff, 53, of Minneapolis. “One of the things that public health really focuses on is upstream solutions, because we make the biggest impact when we tackle problems when they’re small, and that’s what Mosquito Control does.”
Huff said he is impressed with the MMCD’s “targeted” approach when it comes to controlling the metro area’s mosquito population.
The work is data-driven — “down to the specific wetland type and only treating when they know the mosquitoes are there,” he said. “For example, they go out, and they do dips to see how many larvae are in a place, and there’s got to be enough larvae to make it worthwhile to treat, and then they treat it.
“They look at weather, they look at the type of the wetland it is, what the history of it is. They have decades of history of what each wetland has produced, because every mosquito has a different habitat. Some like it when it floods; some like it when it is wet all the time.”
More than 50 species of mosquitoes live in Minnesota, but only about half of those are considered a “nuisance” — meaning they bite humans or can transmit diseases, Huff said.
The agency targets mosquito larvae when spraying, rather than adults, which “minimizes the impact on the bees and butterflies,” he said. “Some districts just spray for the adults, and that can have an impact on other, beneficial insects.”
The MMCD also tracks the number of black flies and ticks in the metro area, Huff said.
“Tick diseases are some of the more concerning,” he said. “Climate change is definitely impacting everything, and staff here is very aware of that. We’re starting to see more ticks, more species of ticks and more diseases spread by ticks.”
Huff said he loves canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and recently returned from a nine-day canoe trip in the Everglades in Florida.
“I love the outdoors,” he said. “I believe in being good stewards of our environment. I love bugs. I just find them kind of fascinating, and I’m also fascinated by vector-borne disease. I’m not an expert in either one of those things, so this job is a great mixture.”
His favorite bug is the dragonfly.
Huff was appointed assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health’s Health Protection Bureau in 2019 by Commissioner Jan Malcolm. As assistant commissioner, Huff was responsible for overseeing the Environmental Health Division, Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division, and the Public Health Laboratory.
Prior to joining MDH, Huff served multiple roles for the city of Minneapolis, including six years as the director of the Department of Environmental Health and coordinator of its sustainability initiative.
He also previously served as director of the Friends of the Mississippi’s watershed protection program at and worked as an environmental education coordinator for the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
Huff, a native of Asheville, N.C., started his career as a high school science teacher. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a master’s degree in public affairs from the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Huff is believed to be the first person to serve as executive director of the MMCD who did not previously work at the agency. Stephen Manweiler, the previous executive director, retired in 2022.
Although many people in the metro area might not know about the MMCD, they certainly appreciate the agency’s efforts.
“Any of us who have been, say, in the Boundary Waters or other areas outside of the metro during the summer know when we live in an area that actually controls mosquitoes,” Huff said, “because the metro is actually really pretty pleasant because of mosquito control.”