Best Practices

"Precautionary principles" or "Proactive or Preventive approach" and Integrated Pest Management

We are at an exciting juncture in the history of the world. On the one hand, we are faced with unprecedented threats to human health and the life-sustaining environment. On the other hand, we have opportunities to fundamentally change the way things are done. We do not have to accept "business as usual." Precaution is a guiding principle we can use to stop environmental degradation. The precautionary principles in simpler terms can be related to the phrase "a stitch in time saves nine".

Field research

As we struggle to understand the complex interactions between ecological systems and human society, we must recognize that there is much we do not know. The burden of scientific proof has posed a monumental barrier in the campaign to protect health and the environment. Actions to prevent harm are usually taken only after significant proof of harm is established, at which point it may be too late. When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

The precautionary principle should be applied to all IPM decision-making processes including or leading to forming green-building or sustainable design development or maintenance policies and procedures.

Alternatives to conventional pesticide approach

A common criticism of the precautionary principle is that its implementation will lead to more hazardous activities. This need not be true, however, alternatives to a threatening activity must be equally well examined. Integral to the precautionary principle is a comprehensive, systematic analysis of alternatives to threatening activities. This refocuses the questions to be considered by a regulator or company from how much risk is acceptable to whether there is a safer and cleaner way to undertake this activity. The alternative approach may not necessarily be of zero-harm or zero-risk decision. But it is possible to move towards creating a safer and healthier environment by looking for the least harmful alternative. Assessing alternatives drives ingenuity and innovation. It is more difficult to dismiss proposals that not only name problems but also set forth alternatives, or demand that they be considered.

Cost of adopting alternatives approaches

Inspection practices

Alternatives such as plant health care, revegetating natives or desired plants, structural vermin proofing, sustainable design improvements, and integrated pest management have been around for years, but very few of us have the budgets to support such programs to the extent required. "How much will it cost to implement the proactive or preventive method, and can we afford it?" These are legitimate questions for taxpayers and policy makers alike. Tallying the "cost" of precaution requires making true value judgments, which can only partially be expressed in monetary terms. We have underestimated the requirement for adjustment in budgets, and structural, lawn and landscape or open space management practices, if pesticides are eliminated from our pest management toolkits.

We need to reform our budgeting principles that currently lean on analyzing annual (allocated or fixed cost funding per unit) conventional pesticide applications versus adoption of multi-year long-term sustainable IPM projects and practices. Moreover, most of us rarely consider the external costs of threatening activities’ harm to health, loss of species, etc., which are often unquantifiable. The links between environmental exposures, human and environmental health, and costs to society demonstrate that taking precautionary measures to decrease the exposure to environmental contaminants can result in significant benefits for society as a whole. These concerns must be incorporated in the overall assessment of a management practice. Having done so, you will always find adequate resources within your existing budgets to adopt the alternatives. Keep in mind that something that is not economically, or technically feasible today may be feasible in the near future and benefit in the long run.

Integrated Pest Management - Right tool, at the right time, in the right way

While we transform or reform our budgeting principles to accommodate long-term strategies, it is also important to understand that an arbitrary pesticide reduction rate imposed is an artificial barrier that impedes IPM principles. Whether it is a 10 percent or 70 percent reduction - it fundamentally opposes the concept of IPM - which is the right tool, at the right time, in the right way. IPM is a continuous system of controlling pests (weeds, diseases, insects or others) in which pests are identified, action thresholds are considered, and all possible control options are evaluated and considered. Prevention is a key part of IPM. Rather than having to take stronger action (such as opting for chemical intervention) later to handle a pest problem, the IPM tools work to prevent weed, insect and fungi problems from developing or worsening. The choice of which control to use is based on effectiveness, environmental impact, site characteristics, worker/public health and safety, and economics.

Best Practices

The following sections will assist further in understanding best management practices (BMP) in this regard:

      An inspector examining a pallet

      IPM is a philosophy of pest control, which has been defined in various ways by diverse groups. There are many sources of information on IPM approaches and how to use IPM in variety of scenarios from home, garden, urban turf and landscapes, right-of-ways to agriculture. The database of IPM resources provides a collection of IPM definitions and their citation in the worldwide literature.

      A few examples are as follows:

      The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1993) provides the following definition: "IPM programs use current comprehensive information on life cycles of pests and their interactions with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment. IPM programs take advantage of all pest management options possibly including, but not limited to, the judicious use of pesticides."

      As defined in the National IPM Roadmap, "Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a long-standing, science-based, decision-making process that identifies and reduces risks from pests and pest management related strategies. It coordinates the use of pest biology, environmental information, and available technology to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means, while posing the least possible risk to people, property, resources, and the environment. IPM provides an effective strategy for managing pests in all arenas from developed residential and public areas to wild lands. IPM serves as an umbrella to provide an effective, all encompassing, low-risk approach to protect resources and people from pests."

      A pesticide sticky trap

      As pesticide use in urban settings became ubiquitous and public concern escalated, urban IPM has evolved into developing alternative strategies and methods to manage pests in the least hazardous way. While not fully developed to the point where one community can borrow entire programs "off-the-shelf" from another, various segments of urban IPM systems have demonstrated their cost-effectiveness and reliability in reducing pesticide use. This has prompted numerous communities to expend considerable effort to develop and implement an IPM program for use in managing their public lands and structures. Urban IPM assists a wide range of professionals such as arborists, municipal and urban foresters, turf managers, nursery growers, landscape managers and maintenance personnel, right-of-way vegetation managers, aquatic pest managers, interiorscape managers and structural pest control operators.

      Developing urban IPM programs for multi-jurisdictional public agencies is a complex management and technical process. Establishing IPM Policies and Programs: A Guide for Public Agencies by University of California Publications, highlights the discussion on various elements of this complex process.

          A stink bug on a wall

          North America is home to many animals and plants that have been introduced since early European settlements. Many of the most damaging invasive animal species were originally introduced either for sport, as pets, or as livestock and pack animals. Invasive plants were introduced in a variety of ways, for example as crops, pasture and garden plants and to prevent erosion. Without their natural enemies, some non-native plants became invasive, reducing the diversity and quantity of native plants. Millions of acres of once healthy, productive rangelands, forestlands and riparian areas have been overrun by noxious or invasive weeds.

          They are invading recreation areas, roadsides, stream banks, federal, state, and private lands. Invasive weeds destroy wildlife habitat, reduce opportunities for hunting, fishing, camping and other recreational activities, displace many threatened and endangered species, reduce plant and animal diversity, cause weed monocultures - one plant species dominating an area, disrupt waterfowl and neo-tropical migratory bird flight patterns and nesting habitats, cost millions of dollars in treatment and loss of land productivity.

          Invasive species also include disease-causing organisms such as fungi and viruses. These organisms can be a threat to a wide variety of native plants and animals. Some of these have become invasive - they have spread and multiplied to the point where they damage the environment, threaten the continued existence of native plants and animals, or create significant problems for agriculture.

          A yellow star thistle field

          It would be desirable to rid the U.S. of the worst invasive species, but this is not achievable in most cases. Thus, management of invasive species, conventional or biological, focuses on reducing their impacts as cost-effectively as possible. Management may involve eradication of the pest in an area, repeated reductions of pest numbers for periods of time, lasting reductions of pest numbers, removal of the most destructive individuals or exclusion of the pest species from an area. This approach means that control can be targeted—for example, with the goal of protecting a threatened native species. Interactions between native species and invasive species are often hard to measure and can complicate decisions about controlling the invaders.

          Control methods for invasive plant species include use of herbicides, manual removal, controlled burn and plowing or disking. Problems that may arise from the use of herbicides include the pollution of waterways and the killing of native insects and small invertebrates.

          Conventional techniques for control of invasive animals include fencing, trapping, poisoning and shooting. There has been some community concern for the welfare of invasive animals and it is now generally accepted that any pest control program must be humane and must have minimal impact on non-target species.

          Biological methods to control pests include the use natural enemies such as predators, parasites and disease-carrying bacteria or viruses. Biological controls are most effective if used in combination with conventional methods. In California, the Biological Control Program is an integral component of the Plant Health and Pest Prevention Service's (PHPPS) Pest Prevention Program. The program helps to minimize the economic and environmental impact of noxious weed and insect species through the implementation of biological control programs throughout the state.

              A wide variety of species fall within the public-health domain as pests because they have the potential for an adverse impact on the health and well being of U.S. residents. This list includes many species of arthropods, vertebrate animals, venomous reptiles and other animals, poisonous plants, and fungi. Some public-health pest threats have similar origins throughout the country, whereas others are unique and require different management approaches.

              Arthropods are historically known as major causes of disease. For example, cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas are directly involved in the transmission of such diseases as food poisoning, malaria, typhus, viral encephalitis, plague, and Lyme disease. Some arthropod pests bite, sting or cause allergic reactions and others do not envenomate or transmit disease but are merely annoying. Arthropods of public health importance are divided into four groups:

              Species that inject their venom by means of fangs or stingers: spiders, scorpions, centipedes, ants, wasps, bees, etc.

              A black widow spider on a web

              Species that inject their venom along with their saliva: mosquitoes, midges, gnats, lice, bed bugs, conenose bugs, fleas, ticks, mites, etc.

              Ticks on a dog's skin

              Species that are sources of allergenic emanations and inhalant allergies: mayflies, moths and butterflies densely covered with scales and hairs, aphids, caterpillars with urticating hairs, blister beetles, millipedes, house dust mites, etc.

              A Western Tussock moth

              Species that do not envenomate but are merely pestiferous: certain midges become so annoying that they may cause recreational areas to be abandoned. Eye gnats are another example. Also, there are larvae of certain insects that invade body tissues or cavities of humans, causing a condition known as myiasis.

              Flies all over a horse's face

              Many vertebrate animals expose humans to dangerous pathogens of public-health significance. Some of these vertebrate pests expose humans to disease organisms without benefit of an arthropod vector, or are primary reservoirs of organisms that cause important human disease.

              Examples of this type of pest are domestic (house mouse, rat) and wild or sylvan rodents. These rodents can infect humans directly with diseases such as tularemia, leptospirosis, arenavirus, Hantavirus, rat bite fever, lymphocytic choriomeningitis and salmonellosis (food poisoning). They also may serve as reservoirs for diseases transmitted by ectoparasites, such as tick-borne relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plague, murine typhus, rickettsia pox, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and tularemia. Birds, bats and small mammals can be carriers of rabies, histoplasmosis, listeriosis or leptospirosis.

              Venomous reptiles (snakes) are another group that is of public health importance. There are some dangerously venomous snakes throughout the U.S. In North America, north of Mexico, pit vipers, which include the cottonmouth, moccasin, and copperhead, as well as about 20 species of rattlesnake and two species of coral snake, are the principal venomous snakes.​

              A Venomous Pit Viper

              Poisonous plants may poison livestock, pets, and humans. Thirty types of plants account for most plant calls to California poison centers.

              Poison oak is a flowing shrub native to the Santa Clara Valley. It, along with related plants poison ivy and poison sumac, produces a skin-irritating oil that can cause rashes, blisters and swelling.

              Poison Oak leaves
                  Two pest control workers in uniform and carrying equipment

                  Most public agencies employ rights-of-way, urban turf and landscape, parks, and structural maintenance workers, or hire contractors to manage pests. Part of their job responsibility is to apply pesticides safely to maintain a pest-free environment throughout the facilities and operations. A pest management professional has a legal and professional obligation to follow all pesticide directions and provide service in a way that ensures proper use of pesticides and to protect people and the environment from risks. There is much more to safety in pest management work than just the responsibilities involved with pesticide use.

                  The primary objective of IPM-Pesticide Safety Education (PSE) is to provide personal safety training to pesticide applicators to reduce pesticide handling and application risks. This is an integral component of human and environmental health protection. The main strategy of PSE should be to engage pesticide applicators to think with a precautionary approach to environmental safety, prepare them to become professional pest managers, and consider alternative pest management practices, not just safe pesticide applications.

                      A freeway in San Jose, California

                      Rights-of-way (ROW) are areas very commonly involved in modern transport. They are essential for the proper functioning of transportation infrastructure and are frequently designated around:

                      • Federal, state, county, and township highways and roads
                      • Public airports
                      • Railroads
                      • Electric utilities (including substations, transmission lines, and distribution lines)
                      • Pipelines (including pumping stations)
                      • Public surface drainage ways
                      • Public irrigation waterways
                      • Banks of public barge ways and areas around locks and dams
                      • Bicycle, and other public paths or trails (outside established recreational areas)

                      Reliability and public safety are of major concern across all rights-of-way. The primary issue of concern is the control of selected types of vegetation. Vegetation management on rights-of-way is desirable and necessary for a variety of reasons such as, maintenance of safe and clear sight distances, clearance of signs and fixtures for visibility and functionality, provision of adequate drainage in roadway ditches, reduction of fire hazard, and to provide snow or dust drift control.

                      It is also necessary to protect the roadway surface from vegetation encroachment and to maintain drainage. Rights-of-way must also allow maintenance workers to perform their function without creating hazards to those that use and depend on the ROW. Managers of rights-of-way share common objectives, including user and worker safety, reduced fire hazard, and an assured ability to perform inspections.

                      Most ROW managers are also confronted with "noxious weeds." Federal and state executive orders require the Department to take steps to prevent the spread of invasive or noxious plants. Federal Executive Order 13112, signed by President Clinton on February 3, 1999 requires "authorities to (i) prevent the introduction of invasive species; (ii) detect and respond rapidly to and control populations of such species." Additionally, there are many issues unique to each type of right-of-way.

                      Management of ROW vegetation is a complex challenge and a formidable task that varies greatly from one location to another. Because no single practice or method is likely to give the desired long-term result, a primary goal of rights-of-way vegetation management is to design an appropriate combination of practices (integrated vegetation management - IVM) that ensure the protection, operation, safety, stability, and longevity of the particular right-of-way in question.

                      The term IVM means different things to different people. While an integrated program attempts to include all aspects of roadside vegetation control, the deployment of herbicides to achieve many of the goals and objectives of an authentic IVM program needs to be based upon the appropriate principles and practices of the much more rigorously established ecological approach to IPM body of knowledge. It is also understood that vegetation management concepts and techniques need to address social and environmental issues such as, traffic safety, water quality, threatened and endangered species, wetland protection, native planting, and noxious weed programs. The management techniques utilized may include manual, mechanical, chemical, cultural, and biological methodologies. Those techniques, which will likely produce the least long-term disturbance to the natural and human community, should be practiced.

                      A problem, either actual or potential, must first be determined to exist and pose unacceptable risks; a cost benefit analysis of an array of ranges of cost-effective treatment alternatives should be given consideration; the timing of treatments should take into consideration the treatment window for optimum effectiveness and safety. Best management practices should be developed, and records should be kept in a database (preferably GIS) for roadside maintenance and the results of treatments should be monitored for effectiveness. Careful analysis of each situation is essential to reach this goal and to keep the costs at reasonable levels.

                          An urban park in Santa Clara, California

                          Structural integrated pest management (IPM) in an urban environment involves the safe prevention, reduction or elimination of unwanted organisms. Pest control operators and facilities managers or owners face tough challenges in solving pest problems around public facilities, office complexes, hospitals, cafeterias, or other sensitive environments that can create real or perceived risks.

                          Traditionally, pest control consisted of the general application of one or more pesticides in indoor environments such as public office buildings, hospitals, correctional faculties, libraries, apartments as well as private residences. However, there has been a movement away from relying solely on pesticides to solve pest problems in response to public concerns over pesticide use, pesticide resistance, and the possibility that pesticide applications may contaminate the work environment and expose staff to pesticide residues.

                          It is important to recognize that pesticides (chemicals) regardless of rating as highly toxic or least toxic should not necessarily be the first choice for solving a pest problem. There are several pesticide reduction strategies available for use in indoor environments. IPM programs discourage unnecessary pesticide use and generic prescriptive pesticide treatments. Each IPM program is specifically designed to meet the individual needs of the area serviced.

                          Pest control providers and clients must agree on what IPM is and how it differs from non-IPM, calendar-scheduled, pesticide-intensive services. Also important to include in discussions are the benefits IPM can deliver, who is involved, what cooperation and participation is expected from all parties involved, how everybody will communicate, how records will be kept, how pesticides (if needed) will be selected, stored, and applied; and what notification procedures will be followed. Building occupants play a major role in sanitation. How will they be educated? How will occupants communicate any pest problems they observe? A designated pest management coordinator in the building can help coordinate information between occupants, decision-makers who make funding and contract decisions, and those who provide the pest control services. The success of an IPM program depends on the assistance and cooperation of the management and staff in each facility.


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