Integrated Pest Management

Growers Manage Pests to Produce Great Apples

By Marcia Anderson

Working in the Office of Pesticide Programs, I was excited to learn of the progress New England fruit growers were making in using “integrated pest management” to reduce pests and pesticides in their orchards.Apples

As we go about picking and eating our apples, many of us are not aware how much New England apple growers must battle pest problems on a continual basis. Pests like moths, mites, and fungi see an apple orchard as a place to eat or reproduce. In general, they have found that integrated pest management – an environmentally friendly, common sense way of controlling pests that involves a variety of approaches – is the way to go. Because the ecology in every orchard is different, pest conditions and circumstances are different for every grower and thus solutions may vary.

Integrated Pest Management has become increasingly engrained in apple pest management in this area over the past 30 years. Most New England growers live right on their farms and have found the most effective way to control pests is by using scientifically-based IPM practices that help their orchards in the long-term.

Growers monitor their orchards weekly from early spring through the growing season to determine pest pressures. Growers and crop consultants become intimate with their location, learn about past disease and pest pressures and about the ecology of their orchards. And they learn something new every year.

Farmers who use integrated pest management can reduce their two highest bills: for pesticides and fertilizers and for fuel.

Maintenance and sanitation are key parts of preventing pests in apple orchards.

Apple scab damage on mature fruit.

Apple scab damage on mature fruit.

Farmers have learned it helps to keep the land and water as clean as possible. In the fall, growers clean the orchard floor, cutting suckers off tree trunks, and clearing weeds from under the trees. Fallen leaves, grass clippings, and winter prunings are mulched and returned to the soil. Leaves chopped small will decompose more quickly and neither the pests nor diseases will have anywhere to overwinter, reducing the pest populations in the orchard the next spring. The only thing removed are the apples.

Simply maintaining this level of sanitation successfully reduces the presence of apple scab, one of the most persistent pest problems in orchards. Apple scab comes from a fungal spore that overwinters on the ground. It normally requires a fungicide, or anti-fungal pesticide, to stop its development. Those spores make leathery-brown scabs that blemish the fruit and reduce its perceived quality and this its economic value.

Apple scab also damages trees by creating lesions on leaves that spread and interfere with photosynthesis. A bad scab infection can shut down a whole tree and spread quickly throughout the orchard.

Other pest prevention methods include planting pest-resistant varieties and replenishing nutrients. Apple trees need specific nutrients to produce quality fruit. When hundreds of bushels of apples per acre are removed annually, nutrients are removed from the soil. Soil should be monitored and nutrients added when necessary.

So why should we care about pest prevention and the appropriate use of pesticides on our apples? One reason is that apples are prevalent in the diets of our children. And they’re good for us! Using the scientifically-based best practices of integrated  pest management, northeastern apple growers can give us high quality apples at reasonable prices.

More information from EPA on Integrated Pest Management: https://www.epa.gov/managing-pests-schools/introduction-integrated-pest-management

You can see New England growers discuss using IPM to prevent pests in series of three videos by the New England Apple Association.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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An Elderly Tenant’s Path to Overcoming Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

Lynne Gregory of EPA Region 2 recently shared with me a compelling story about Vivian, a 70-year-old retiree whose bed bug story began on September 11, 2001.

Vivian lived in a high-rise on the southern end of Manhattan, in close proximity to the World Trade Center. Her building felt the effects of the tragedy, as did she. Vivian was forced to move out of her residence for both structural and air quality reasons and was never able to return. As a result, she has had to move multiple times, with her most recent move into an apartment infested with bed bugs.

Like most people, Vivian did not notice the bed bugs when she moved in. It was the recurring bites that tipped her off.  She captured some for identification. While searching online for bed bug information, she found the EPA bed bug website along with a list of EPA regional employees to contact, for bed bug advice. She called Lynne and has been in regular contact with her for the past six months.

A proud woman, Vivian was ashamed to discuss the bed bug matter with others, but Lynne gained her confidence and has coached Vivian on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for bed bug control ever since. Vivian refuses to tell the landlord about the problem for fear of being blamed for bringing in the bugs. She was also ashamed of the amount of boxes and clutter in her apartment that resulted from all of her moves.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Informing the landlord is normally the first course of action when finding bed bugs, or any other pest in multifamily housing. However, elderly tenants like Vivian are often apprehensive that their landlords will become hostile toward them. They may fear eviction, fear having to throw out life-long possessions (a directive many landlords issue to tenants prior to allowing any pest treatments), and worry that they will be forced to pay to solve a problem they did not cause.

Vivian contacted the NY City Housing Department and her state senator to find out about the city’s bed bug laws and what, if any, tenant rights she had. In the end, there was nothing anyone could do to assist her.

Despite the challenges, Lynne was determined to help her. First, Vivian was told to put encasements on her mattress and box springs to keep the bed bugs off them.  Next, she was coached to reduce the clutter in her apartment – a challenging task for anyone, let alone a 70-year-old woman with no assistance.  On Lynne’s advice, Vivian put all of her clothing in tightly sealed plastic bags and heat treated items in a dryer set on high. She began laundering bed linens weekly. During the past six months, Vivian has decluttered her apartment, one box at a time. She keeps only one or two of her most precious items, and has gotten rid of the items she no longer needed.

While Vivian had read online about the use of various products, including dusts and foggers, to help combat the bed bugs. She was advised against their use by her physician because of her health issues. It is advisable to only use EPA-registered pesticides labeled to control bed bugs and to use them according to their label directions.

EPA bed bug general card draft final 5-2-12Vivian also asked if bed bugs could bite through clothing and was told that they cannot. So, she mummies herself in a sheet at night to avoid being bitten. That strategy has actually been working superbly. She no longer gets bites at night. In addition, Vivian has been using a petroleum jelly as a barrier on her bed legs to prevent the bed bugs from climbing onto her bed for a late-night blood meal.

Vivian has asked about cleaning the bed frame with mineral oil or soap. Regular cleaning will help to disturb any harboring bed bugs and will also help to dislodge their eggs. Rather than the oil or soap, it is the physical cleaning, a key step in the IPM process, that actually helps.

Despite her age, physical condition, fear of her landlord, and strong propensity for privacy, Vivian has now overcome bed bugs. One of the most difficult pests to manage under any circumstances has been brought under control by her strong will and determination, following recommended IPM practices, and heeding the coaching provided by Lynne.

For more information on bed bugs, review the resources on EPA’s bed bug information clearinghouse, including a bed bug information card and a bed bug prevention, detection and control flier. Also, check out EPA’s website for information on IPM, a smart, sensible and sustainable way to control pests at home and in schools.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me…..

By Marcia Anderson

Summer is a glorious time for an outdoor family BBQ.  Those interested in nature can watch all of the animal families busily foraging for food. Rest assured it won’t be long until you hear the familiar buzz of house flies.

Adult house fly. Image: David Cappaert

Adult house fly.
Image: David Cappaert

The good news is that house flies cannot bite, unlike mosquitoes, because their mouth is no more than a spongy pad. The bad news is that one landed right on my macaroni salad. Like most people, I shooed the fly away and went back to eating. However, I pushed the food that the fly touched to the side of my plate and did not eat it. I also washed my hands when I went inside for there is no way to know where that fly had been, and where else it had landed.

Why am I so paranoid over a fly you ask? Because a house fly potentially carries twice as many pathogens as a cockroach, and they transmit infectious bacteria at levels high enough to be a significant public health risk. As a matter of fact, many common infectious diseases, ranging from food poisoning to respiratory infections, are transmitted by house flies. Some of the most common diseases spread by the house fly are typhoid fever, tuberculosis, dysentery, food poisoning, and diphtheria, all of which can be serious if not treated promptly.

The University of Florida recently found even more pathogens transmitted by house flies. The bodies of healthy people can usually isolate and fight off numerous pathogens before they become a problem. However, these same pathogens are a serious health risk to many people with developing or compromised immune systems, including infants, young children, senior citizens and those recuperating from illness. For me, ingesting a potentially harmful pathogen is just not worth the risk.

Since they do not bite, exactly how do house flies transmit diseases? House flies pick up pathogens from a wide range of feeding places such as organic matter, feces, fruits, vegetables, meat, and open wounds, just to name a few. At first, the fly regurgitates saliva and digestive juices onto their food then sponges up the solution. Their saliva actually liquefies their food. This way of feeding allows flies to contaminate large amounts of food.

Head of an adult house fly. Image: Pest and Disease Library; Bugwood.org

Head of an adult house fly.
Image: Pest and Disease Library; Bugwood.org

A house fly needs only a few seconds to contact a pathogen source in order to transport it elsewhere.  Sometimes, only a few microbes attached to the flies’ body, legs, or mouthparts can cause a serious disease. For all of these reasons, fly control needs to be taken seriously. You do not need a lot of flies to contaminate food sources, hence the need to heed health department requirements in school kitchens and restaurants. Limiting fly contact with food, utensils, food preparation areas, and people is an important part of hygiene.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the smart, sensible approach to controlling flies and other pests.  IPM is not a single pest control method but rather involves multiple control tactics based on the biology of the pest and site information. Consequently, every IPM program is customized to the pest prevention goals of the situation. Successful IPM programs use a tiered tactics that include: proper pest identification and monitoring; pest prevention through cultural controls such as sanitation; maintenance that eliminates entry points and food/water sources; pest control devices; and pesticides, as needed.

First, focus on pest prevention through exclusion. If flies cannot get into an eating area, they will not be a problem. Providing barriers, such as screens on doors and windows, nets, self-closing doors, and sealing cracks that provide entry points create a good first line of defense. Even air curtains (fans blowing air down over a doorway) will keep them out.

Next take up sanitation. Garbage should be placed in plastic bags and held in containers with tight-fitting lids. It should not be allowed to accumulate. Reducing the sources that attract flies, such as pet excrement, soiled baby or adult diapers that have not been discarded properly is key to IPM and fly prevention. Open piles of compost, animal manure, garbage, lawn clippings, decaying vegetables, fruits, and dead animals are also breeding sites and pathogen sources for flies.

For flies, the larval stage is the easiest to control. If breeding sites can be eliminated, the lifecycle of the fly can be broken, thus preventing more adult flies.

After sanitation and maintenance, there are devices that can assist in fly control. They include ultraviolet light, air curtains on doors, inverted cone traps that contain attractants, and the old fashioned fly swatter.

Penn State University offers an informative fact sheet on house fly control to help you get started. Once you’ve taken on the fly management challenge, you can enjoy your next meal without the buzz of these troublesome pests.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Keep Pests Out When Serving Breakfast in the Classroom

By Marcia Anderson

Breakfast in the Classroom is a popular meal program in schools nationwide, and is widely adopted in many NYC and surrounding schools. Once in the classroom, however, food becomes a source for potential pest problems. Even if students assist in cleaning up after eating their meal, wipe their desks, recycle waste appropriately, and put the trash in garbage bags, crumbs and spills may go unnoticed.

American cockroach Photo: Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

American cockroach
Photo: Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

Pests are not picky. Ants, flies, cockroaches, and mice are drawn to the long-forgotten crumbs in the corner and juice residue left on desks by sticky fingers. It takes very little food for pests to thrive in the hidden spaces of a classroom. Pests are attracted to any place that offers food, water, and shelter – this can include classrooms, cabinets, desks, lockers, and cubbies. Remember that managing pests is important because some can carry diseases, spread food-borne illnesses, and triggers asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

Clean up after meals. Remember that food, even if left in the classroom trash can, becomes an open invitation to any cockroach or rodent in the area.  Cleaning up regularly removes the necessities that pests need to survive. Keep paper towels or moist cleansing wipes in each classroom so students and teachers can clean desks after breakfast. Classrooms serving meals may also need more frequent vacuuming or mopping.

Disposing of trash promptly, within about two hours of the meal, and proper recycling keeps classrooms clean and pest-free. Recycling and waste management programs may need to be altered to accommodate disposal of breakfast packaging.

This NYC school serves breakfast in the classroom, but also pays particular attention to recycling and Integrated Pest Management in the classroom.

This NYC school serves breakfast in the classroom, but also pays particular attention to recycling and Integrated Pest Management in the classroom.

Implement a comprehensive pest management program. EPA recommends that schools adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to managing pests.  IPM emphasizes preventative strategies such as sanitation, maintenance, and exclusion.  In an IPM approach, school buildings and grounds are inspected to see where pests are finding food, water, and shelter. Steps are then taken to keep pests out and to make conditions unfavorable to pests by keeping everything clean, dry, and tightly sealed. Using IPM practices to manage pests is cost effective, and reduces exposure to pests and pesticides. The goal of a school IPM program is to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for students and staff.

Following these practical steps will help keep pests out of your school when serving Breakfast in the Classroom.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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If You Like Apple Pie… Save The Bees!

By Sion Lee

I love honey. I put it on my pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, yogurt, salad dressings and marinades. Honey is nature’s sweet liquid gold. As a guilty lover of sweet, processed foods, I am routinely amazed at how delicious and natural honey is. All bees scare me, but I sincerely respect the honeybee for producing such delicious bee vomit. (Surprise! Honey is, in a sense, bee vomit.)

Interestingly enough, honey bees are not just for honey. In fact, the most important role of the honeybee is its role as a pollinator. Animals or insects that transfer pollen from plant to plant are pollinators. Some plants are self-pollinating, which means they can fertilize themselves. Others, however, are cross-pollinating plants, which need a pollinator (or the wind) to transfer the pollen to another flower in order to fertilize. Once a plant is fertilized, it can grow seeds or fruit. This is how many of the world’s crops are grown. Almonds, apples, cherries, citrus, avocados, broccoli and pumpkins are common examples of foods that need pollinators.

Source: Whole Foods Market

Source: Whole Foods Market

Without honeybees, one third of the world’s food supply would disappear. In 2013, Whole Foods released a hypothetical before-and-after picture of a world with and without bees. As stated on their site, their produce team “pulled from shelves 237 of 453 products- 52 percent of the normal product mix in the department.” It’s really a disheartening thought. My favorite substance in the world, guacamole, would not exist. Apple pies wouldn’t be an apple pie. Almond butter would be unheard of. There would be nothing good left in the world.

Unfortunately, the population count of honeybees is rapidly declining. One problem that has been drastically influencing the decline of honeybees is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Colony Collapse Disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. In 2006, beekeepers began to report unusually high losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. While the cause of CCD has not yet been determined, many experts are pointing their fingers to habitat loss, pesticide use, and invasive species that are pests for honeybees. Of course, CCD is not the only reason why the honeybee population is dwindling; habitat loss and pesticide use are both very straightforward and valid reasons as to why these pollinators are perishing.

So how can we save the honeybees? First, learn. You can find more information about protecting pollinators here. Second, support your local beekeeper. Not all heroes wear capes- instead, some wear netted veil hats and thick rubber gloves. Your local beekeeper is nurturing and protecting these precious pollinators that are so vital to agriculture. Many local beekeepers will probably be selling bee products- honey, royal jelly, propolis, beeswax, and/or beauty products made from these components. (Personally, my local beekeeper does it all. She sells honey, honey sticks, lotions, lip balms, shampoos, soaps, and beauty creams.) Support your local beekeeper by supporting their business or support them just by lending them a hand. Beekeeping is hard work and is a job that gets nowhere near the amount of recognition it deserves.

You can also take small, individual actions to make a difference.  Bee careful with where and when you are applying pesticides (that is if pesticides are needed). Do not apply pesticides where bees are likely to be flying and try to apply them during the early evening when the bees are inactive so the pesticides can dry overnight. In addition, you can plant flowers that are pollinator-friendly. Milkweed, geraniums, lilies, roses, sunflowers and violets are all beautiful flowers that attract pollinators. If you do not have a large space in your home, even just having a potted pollinator-friendly plant outside can make a difference.

Now, let’s save the bees!

About the Author: Sion (pronounced see-on) is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. She is a native of Queens. Sion’s favorite hobbies include eating, listening to Stevie Wonder, and breaking stereotypes.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Communities and Schools: Your Ash Trees are on the Menu

By Marcia Anderson

I was recently in a conference of Certified Tree Experts representing many northeast and north-central states to discuss the invasion and progressive devastation of our nation’s ash trees by the emerald ash borer.

Yes, we have another pest focused on annihilating our community forests. Think back. First, it was Dutch elm disease.  Later, chestnut blight, the gypsy moth, followed by the Asian longhorn beetle.  Now, the emerald ash borer (EAB) is here. While common in urban landscapes across much of the continental U.S., native ash trees (Fraxnus sp.) have little natural resistance to this most recent pest. In addition, EAB, which is native to Asia, has no natural enemies in the U.S.

EAB NYS DEC

Emerald ash borer adult.
Photo: David Cappaert. www.forestryimages.org

A major problem with an emerald ash borer infestation is that most people do not see it coming, and by the time the trees begin to show signs of decline, it is too late. The really bad news is that 95% of ash trees hit with EAB will be dead within five years.  The only way to save your favorite ash tree is to prepare and be proactive in your response.

Range. Ground zero for the EAB invasion was near Detroit, Michigan in 2002.  EAB has already swept through the Midwest and devastated almost every ash tree in its path. In Ohio, nearly all ash trees (over 20 million) suffered close to 100% mortality.  EAB is now present in 34 states and 2 Canadian provinces. In infested areas, 90-100% of ash trees will be dead within 4-5 years.

How does EAB kill trees?  EAB attacks ash trees of all sizes. EAB starts with large trees, but then goes down to smaller ones, devouring the insides of every ash tree in its path. EAB first attacks stressed trees, such as those with a portion of bark removed. The females lay 30+ eggs in the cracks of bark, beginning toward the top of the tree. The eggs hatch and the larvae bore in and feed on the phloem that conducts nutrients throughout the tree. Gradually, the infestation moves into the inner layers of the tree.  The larvae spend one or two years feeding inside the tree before emerging as adults in the spring.  If you see the adults exit holes at eye-level of a tree trunk, the infestation is heavy and has probably been there for several years. Symptoms that aid in early detection are yellowing or orange tinged leaves, loss of leaves in the canopy, sections of death in the canopy and eventually a weak, dying tree.

How does EAB spread to other areas? EAB is often found near highway rest stops. As a matter of fact, as I was driving through Pennsylvania to New Jersey in November, one landed on my car’s windshield at a rest stop. It was the first time I had seen one, and marveled at its small size and metallic green color. EAB’s are carried along railroad and other transportation thoroughfares, wherever ash trees or wood are transported. Adult EABs can hitchhike on truck beds, barges, and cars. Utility workers are often the first to find them in newly infested areas. Female beetles can disperse up to three miles from the source tree.

EAB_combo_thumb NYS DEC

Emerald ash borer adults.
Photo: www.nyis.info

EAB is coming to an ash tree near you. New Jersey, New York, and the New England states are now the latest targets of this pest.  According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, less than 5% of the state’s 900 million ash trees are currently infested. However, because black and green ash are keystone species in the regions’ wetland ecosystems, their loss could mean the loss of the entire ecosystem. In New York and New Jersey’s hardwood forests, one in every 10 trees is an ash. The entire state of New Jersey is under an EAB quarantine and under federal and state regulation to minimize the spread to non-infested areas. All ash wood must remain in municipal boundaries unless it is chipped or the bark removed.

Strategies to hamper the spread of EAB.  1) First and foremost quarantine all ash wood, including firewood.  2) Replace ash trees with a diameter of 12” or less.  If your community decides not to treat, figure that those ash trees will die, and become hazardous. Do you remove the trees now or later at a higher cost? 3) Remove infected trees – they are already hazardous. Dying trees dry out very fast and become unpredictable because they can crack and fall, even on calm, clear days. Removals should begin with the largest ones first. What to do with all of that ash wood? Chip or kiln dry the wood, which kills the bugs. Ash makes good pellets for wood burning stoves and can also be used in industry, furniture, and baseball bats.

Management options. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for trees helps to create a healthier environment by reducing both pests and unnecessary pesticide use. IPM stresses the use of monitoring, maintenance, and sanitation. The use of pesticides, when needed, is also part of the IPM toolbox. Treating proactively for EAB falls into this “when-needed” category, in lieu of removing all of your ash trees.

If your trees are within 10-15 miles of known infestations, they are at risk. Success in treatment is ultimately determined by both the tree’s health and in initiating treatment before EAB has begun its demise. By the time people notice thinning in the canopy, EAB has already caused considerable damage to the vascular system of the tree. Even large ash trees can be protected from EAB by treating with systemic insecticides. Milwaukee saved most of its trees by treating because they decided that it was more economically beneficial than removal and replacement. Considerations in every town and situation are different.

There are three options for urban ash tree management:  Removal and replacement; treatment with insecticides until they can be removed; and treatment with insecticides for the duration of the infestation. New York State and the North Central IPM Center offer good publications that describe the insecticide options for protecting ash trees from EAB.  While some options are available to homeowners, others require professional application.

Dr. Jason Graboski of Rutgers University says that the states on the front lines, such as NJ, NY, MD and those in New England can benefit from the lessons learned by MI, OH, IN and PA. He shared with us information from the New Jersey EAB webpage that both informs residents and tracks EAB sitings across the state.  New York also has an EAB website with reference maps. In addition, there is a national Emerald Ash Borer Information Network with detailed information for the entire U.S.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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When in Bear Country, Stay Bear Aware

By Marcia Anderson

As a former Scout leader I’ve spent a lot of time in places visited by black bears. I often taught bear-safe practices. As Scouts, my daughter and sons learned about bears at an early age and continue to put into practice prevention lessons they learned.

Adult black bear Photo: Pam McIlhenny, fws.gov

Adult black bear
Photo: Pam McIlhenny, fws.gov

Today, I educate schools and communities about preventing pests through Integrated Pest Management, a sensible and sustainable approach to controlling pests. The main principle is prevention. Every pest needs food, water and a safe harbor to survive. If one of these is denied, the pest will no longer thrive and will move on. So yes, just think of bears as very big pests.

As bear populations increase and more people live and recreate in areas occupied by bears, human-bear conflicts also increase. Most of these conflicts are caused by our lack of knowledge.

Bears have made a comeback throughout New England. although Maine has the largest bear population, the American black bear, the largest predator in the Northeast, rose more dramatically in Massachusetts, where the numbers of native bears grew nine-fold since 1980s, from a few hundred to more than 4,500.

If you live in, or visit bear country here are a few things you should keep in mind.

As I said, pest management includes removing whatever attract pests – in this case, food for bears. Garbage is the biggest offender Bears can smell food from more than a mile away. They travel great distances to track down smells, crossing roads and bridges and placing themselves and people at risk.

Bears will eat just about anything they deem to be nutritious. The calories a bear can consume by picking through garbage can surpass the forage they can find in nature. Problems arise when bears have access to food sources such as garbage, barbecue grills, pet food, or bird seed. Normally, black bears are too shy to risk contact with humans, but their need to find food can overwhelm this fear.

Once a bear finds a food source, such as school dumpsters or neighborhood garbage cans, it will continue to forage until the food is removed. It may take weeks for the bear to understand the food source is no longer available. Once a bear is dependent on human food, its chances of survival are reduced.

If your school, home, or business is in an area that attracts bears, build a shed to protect your garbage cans or secure garbage in a bear-resistant containers. Tightly tie all bagged garbage and keep lids closed to reduce odors.

Teach your children to respect, not fear bears. Black bears are typically not aggressive and usually flee when confronted. Make a plan identifying safe areas, noting clear escape routes for the bear, and collecting noise-making items to scare off the bear.

After a bear visit, look around to see what might have attracted it.

BearBlog2If you live in or work in bear country, encourage surrounding neighbors and your local government, to pass ordinances to keep potential bear food sources secure. It is illegal in many states to place food or garbage out that attracts bears and causes conflicts.

Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding. Remove bird feeders from late spring through early fall and when they are up, empty them nightly. Keep outdoor grills clean and stored securely. Keep areas under fruit trees clean. Better yet, if you don’t want bears, don’t plant fruit trees! Compost also attracts bears so don’t keep compost in unsecured areas.

If you live in bear country, adopt preventative measures that will help you and the bears avoid unwanted encounters. For more visit the National Park Service bear safety webpage.

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Marcia Anderson, who has a doctorate in environmental management, works with EPA’s headquarters on issues related to pest management in schools. She formerly worked in pesticides for EPA Region 2 and has a home in Lyman, Maine.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s Time for Ticks, Again

Tick Map

Tick distribution in northeastern United States. Image: Used with permission from identify.us.com.

By Marcia Anderson

A lovely spring walk in the park with my dog allows me to enjoy trees and shrubs as they awake from their winter naps. Suddenly, I spot a tick climbing up my pant leg and am reminded that it is the time that ticks and other insect pests also emerge. It doesn’t matter if you live in the city, country or suburbs, ticks can easily end up in your neighborhood, transported on small mammals, hungry to feast on you and your dog.

Tick-borne diseases are on the rise in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control, Lyme disease is found in 46 states and Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been reported in 40 states. The northeastern states, from Maine through Maryland, have the greatest concentration of ticks in the nation, from mid-May through the fall. This makes tick management an important consideration for schools, parks and neighborhoods.

Young ticks attach to field mice, rabbits, birds and squirrels. As they mature, older nymphs and adults climb onto tall grasses, shrubs and herbaceous plants, in a quest to grab onto larger hosts like deer, dogs and people as they pass by.

The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), once inside your home, can live and breed in cracks and crevices. The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), on the other hand, can be found indoors after being carried in by a host, such as a dog. As a dog lies on the floor, a tick can easily drop off and crawl into the tiny space moldings provide next to the wall. Undisturbed, ticks will stay on a dog or human for several days, giving it plenty of time to transmit disease.

Female American dog tick. Photo: Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS, Bugwood.org

Female American dog tick.
Photo: Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS, Bugwood.org

Immature ticks are very tiny and, like older ticks, often go unnoticed until they become engorged with blood. After feeding, the female will drop from its host, hide and lay up to 3,000 eggs. Our golden retriever, Mozart, frequently lay in his favorite spots during his golden years. Late one fall, we noticed hundreds of tiny ticks crawling around one of those favorite spots. It took weeks for us to vacuum up all of those ticks.

There are 12 species of tick that are of major health concern throughout the U.S. In the Northeast, the main culprits are the American dog tick and deer tick. The American dog tick is much larger than the deer tick and the female has a whitish shield on her back, and carries diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and encephalitis. The black-legged tick, commonly known as the deer tick, is about the size of a poppy seed, and without markings. It carries the organism that causes Lyme disease.

Ticks are of particular concern on many school properties with large open playing fields surrounded by either woods or open areas with tall grass or brush. Ticks are also found on cross-country trails, paths and play yards located near wooded areas. One Massachusetts study determined that children, ages 5 to 9, have the highest incidence of reported Lyme disease of all age groups. This emphasizes the need for tick education for all school-aged children.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to managing pests of all types, including ticks. IPM for ticks relies on planning, prevention, monitoring and landscape maintenance/modification to reduce tick-favorable habitats. It also includes the judicious use of pesticides. Here are some tick IPM suggestions you can implement around your home and school.

First, educate all children and parents about personal protection from ticks in regions where ticks are common. Children should be instructed not to go into areas where ticks are known to be prevalent, such as meadows and other areas with tall grasses unless proper precautions are followed. These precautions include keeping to the center of trails, avoiding contact with shrubs and tall grasses and using personal protection.

Personal protection includes wearing light colored clothing, tucking pants legs into socks, and wearing closed-toe shoes. After a long day enjoying nature in the outdoors, place clothing directly into the washer and especially the dryer. Washing clothes may not kill all hiding ticks, but they will succumb to the heat of the drier.

Education also includes lessons on how to recognize ticks and conduct body checks for ticks. On humans, ticks migrate up toward the hairline. It takes about five hours for a tick to become firmly implanted and a few days for it to become fully engorged with blood. If you find a tick, carefully remove it with tweezers, keep it in a container or zip-top bag for later identification. You may want to seek medical attention following a tick bite, especially if you are in an area where tick-borne diseases are prevalent.

Parents should read and follow the label of any tick repellent they choose. Note that some repellents are not recommended for use on the skin of young children. EPA has an online tool to help you choose the right repellent. Permethrin-treated clothing that repels and kills ticks is another option.

Protect your pets by talk to your veterinarian about the various products available to repel and kill ticks.

Landscape modifications to reduce tick habitats include keeping grass mowed, creating a three-foot wide area between woods and playing fields, raking leaf litter, eliminating brush-covered habitats, and excluding hosts, like deer by installing exclusion fences. Mulch or wood chips under play equipment and gravel or mulch as edging along woodlands make unfavorable tick habitat.

For more information, review EPA’s Tick Safety in Schools publication, the University of Maine’s tick fact sheet, and view EPA’s School IPM webinar on ticks. You can also visit the University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter Resource Center and become a tick spotter. The information you submit can improve tick awareness through tools like Tick Encounter’s Current Tick Activity tracker.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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April Showers Bring May Flowers and Mosquitoes

Northern Culex mosquito laying eggs on water’s surface. Image: Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org

Northern Culex mosquito laying eggs on water’s surface. Image: Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org

By Marcia Anderson

There is nothing as pleasant as a warm spring day. Flowers are beginning to bloom, tree buds are swelling, and the air is sweet with the smell of spring. Then, you hear the buzz, feel a slight prick, and the spell is gone. Yes, April showers really do bring May flowers followed by mosquitoes.

Is there anything that you can do to reduce mosquitoes and the threat of mosquito-borne diseases this year? Actually there is.

Most people do not realize all of the areas around their own homes where mosquitoes can find stagnant water for laying their eggs. Mosquitoes that live in close association with humans typically breed in containers that are holding water. Amazingly, many mosquitoes can breed in something as little as a bottle cap.

This article is designed to help you identify water sources around your home and neighborhood that could provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. By eliminating these areas through an approach called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), you can reduce the number of mosquitoes in your neighborhood. Here are some suggestions for identifying and eliminating these problematic water sources.

water in child toy

Water collected in a child’s toy left outside can support mosquito larvae.

Surveillance: Identify the locations and sizes of all stagnant water sources, including bird baths, pet water and food bowls, trays beneath potted plants, outdoor containers, kiddy pools, outdoor toys, open water barrels, tarps, blocked catchment basins, clogged storm drains, obstructed roof gutters, garbage cans and dumpsters without lids or drains, discarded appliances, and car parts, especially tires.

Sanitation: An essential component of mosquito management is the elimination of breeding sites. All mosquitoes need water on which to lay their eggs. Removing the stagnant water sources identified in the surveillance of your property will diminish the mosquitoes.

Plastics deserve a special focus because they are not only a huge waste problem, but also key breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease carrying pests. Improperly discarded plastic bags and food/drink containers can become pest breeding sites. Remember to empty the rainwater from children’s toys that have been left outdoors.

Maintenance: If you live in an area with irrigation diversions, swales, open stormwater culverts, or trenches, you should maintain them to prevent obstruction of the water flow by sediment or plant debris. Clogged gutters and flat roof tops with poor drainage are also commonly overlooked mosquito breeding sites that require regular maintenance.

Report standing water – in New York City call 311; in other communities, call your local health department. If your property has large areas of standing water that do not readily drain, discuss options with your municipal engineer or local agricultural extension service office.

Creative Solutions:  For a small to moderate ornamental pond, consider biological solutions such as mosquito-eating fish, tadpoles, flatworms or copepods.  (See how New Jersey used copepods to reduce mosquito larvae). Bodies of water with fish or other mosquito-eating wildlife are not prone to mosquito problems. To illustrate, every spring I add feeder goldfish to my bird bath. The tiny fish devour any mosquito larvae that appear, and the neighborhood children love to watch the fish. As a result of this and our efforts to remove or regularly empty water-collecting containers, our yard is free of mosquitoes.

Simple Steps You Can Take:

  • Unblock drains and gutters to maintain water flow.
  • Drill a few small drainage holes in pots, plastic toys, and garbage cans.
  • Empty saucers, tarps, and children’s toys of water within a few days after a rain.
  • Properly dispose of unwanted tires.

The EPA recommends that you use IPM to control all of your pests, even mosquitoes. IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests proactively and at their source. For mosquitoes, this means focusing on eliminating the places they can breed around your home and in your neighborhood. For more information, visit EPA’s mosquito control website.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Prevent Yellow Jackets before They Cause Problems at Your School

Yellow jacket season is upon us.

Yellow jacket season is upon us.

By Marcia Anderson

Along with the azaleas, dogwoods and spring bulbs, yellow jackets have also awakened – just in time for playground and BBQ season. Yellow jackets, wasps and hornets are beneficial insects, but they can be a health hazard due to the reactions that some people have to their painful stings.

Early Action Prevents Later Trouble: You can often avoid severe yellow jacket problems by eliminating workers and nests in late spring and early summer when yellow jacket workers are few and their nests are still small.

If there is a chronic problem with yellow jackets around your school or community playgrounds, picnic areas or fields, inspect the area to locate the nests. Nests can be found in the ground, under eaves and in wall voids of buildings. Ground nests are frequently located under shrubs, logs, rock piles and other protected sites. Entrance holes sometimes have bare earth around them. Nest openings in the ground or in buildings can be recognized by observing the insects entering and leaving. Yellow jacket nests can also be found in fence posts, play equipment and picnic table supports with unsealed openings.

The environmentally preferable way to reduce stinging insects is to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques. IPM is an effective, environmentally sensitive and sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health and environmental risks. Yellow jacket and other stinging insect presence can be significantly reduced when IPM procedures are implemented.

Fence post with hole

Fence posts and hollow rails surrounding playgrounds are common places for yellow jacket nests.

Prevention and Habitat Modification: Given the potential seriousness of stings, the objective of yellow jacket management is to reduce encounters by eliminating their prime foraging habitats through good sanitation practices and awareness. The most effective ways to manage yellow jackets are to reduce their access to food in the vicinity of human activities, and to use physical controls such as nest removal and trapping.

Reduce access to food: Later in the season, yellow jackets are attracted to protein foods. Any food left outdoors, open garbage containers or uncovered compost piles should be removed or covered. Wasps imprint food sources, and will continue to search an area for some time after the food has been removed. All refuse containers should periodically be cleaned of food wastes and should be emptied frequently to prevent the contents from impeding the closure of the lid. Garbage cans should have lids and dumpsters should have vertical spring-loaded swinging doors.

Trapping: Trapping will not eliminate yellow jackets, but can help to reduce their numbers. Various types of traps are baited with liquid or dry attractants and will allow insects to enter, but not escape. Place the traps around the perimeter of the area you want to protect so that you draw the yellow jackets away from the people. Aggressive trapping will significantly reduce the number of fall-foraging yellow jackets and the risk of stings. Do not skimp on the number of traps, as you may need lots of traps to get effective population reduction. Place traps according to the manufacturer’s directions. Empty the traps and change baits frequently to keep the traps effective. Traps should always be placed out of reach of children.

Following these steps in the spring should lead to fewer incidents with yellow jackets and other stinging insects in the late summer and autumn. See Virginia Tech’s website for more information on IPM for yellow jackets and wasps. Also, check out EPA’s website for information on smart, sensible and sustainable pest management in schools.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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