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Vancouver Public Schools 7th in the Nation to Earn IPM Star Certification
(Beyond Pesticides, September 28, 2004)
Vancouver Public Schools has become only the seventh school district in the nation to earn IPM STAR status from the Integrated Pest Management Institute of North America based in Madison, Wisconsin for its management of pests and pesticide hazards. IPM STAR Program evaluates school systems for competence in managing pests and pesticide hazards.

Dr. Thomas Green, an entomologist and president of the IPM Institute, and Carrie Foss, an urban IPM coordinator at Washington State University’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, evaluated the Vancouver district’s pest management policies and practices in the spring, and their findings resulted in the award.

Integrated pest management techniques rely on using natural and nontoxic solutions as the first line of defense against a broad range of pests, ranging from rodents to stinging insects to weeds.

To correct pest problems, IPM practitioners look for the cause and solve it rather than relying on temporary fixes such as pesticide applications, according to Green. When a pesticide application is needed, the IPM philosophy is to choose the least-toxic option.

“For example, if you spot a mouse, you can be fairly certain there is a mouse nest within 30 feet. That’s as far as they typically travel from home,” Green said. “Fixing the crack under the door helps keep the mice out.”

The Vancouver board of education adopted a formal IPM policy in March 2002 that was drafted by George Bryant, the district’s director of facilities management, based on existing models and with input from staff and community members. The policy clearly states a commitment to preventing and avoiding pest problems with non-chemical methods as the first line of defense.

Bryant relies heavily on John Weber, assistant maintenance crew leader, to implement the program in the district’s 35 schools which serve 21,700 students and employ close to 3000 staff. District facilities include 520 acres of grass, mowed twice weekly by a staff of 7, and 3 football, 2 baseball and 3 soccer fields. Specialized pest-related tasks, such as stinging insect nest removal, are provided by Eden Advanced Pest Technologies, an Olympia-based firm with offices throughout the region.

“The level of thought that has gone into the program is evident in the outstanding documentation and record keeping system developed by the staff,” Green said.

A detailed IPM plan and protocol specifies practices regarding notification and posting, record keeping, and roles and responsibilities for the IPM committee and director of maintenance and the diverse IPM committee that guides the program.

The plan also details when and how pesticides and fertilizers are to be used, and includes a definition of “high hazard” pesticides to be used only when all other methods have failed. The plan specifies procedures for an annual review, which includes quantities of all pesticides used, target pests, non-chemical approaches, a summary evaluation, and a plan for improvements during the coming year.

Weber coordinates training for the building operators, both classroom and “on-the-job” sessions.

“Building operators are our eyes and ears,” says Weber. “When a pest-related problem comes up, I encourage them to contact me. We work through the protocol, to assess the problem, and try to identify and address the cause.”

Non-chemical approaches used in the district include selecting native plants when possible. Natives can be less susceptible to pests than imported plants, which have not had the long-term opportunity to evolve survival strategies for Vancouver’s climate and conditions

Other strategies include placing light poles on hard surfaces, rather than in adjacent turf, to reduce the need for time-consuming weed trimming around the base. Weed trimming is also limited by “planting low-maintenance asphalt or concrete under fence lines, or by raising the fence a couple of inches above the turf to allow mower deck or weed trimmer access underneath.

Weber has extended the environmental and health focus to cleaning products as well, including attending a seminar on “green” cleaning products sponsored by the Washington State Lung Association. As a result, a number of cleaning products have been discontinued, and substituted with less toxic options.

Vancouver’s IPM team doesn’t plan to rest on their laurels. They’ll be revising a facility inspection form that is currently used by building operators to note fire, health and safety issues, to include pest-related items such as dumpster cleanliness and condition.

The IPM STAR program is voluntary, and includes a rigorous evaluation of the school by an IPM professional, a comprehensive set of reports and recommendations, and concerted action by school administrators, staff and contractors to meet a high standard for effective, least-risk pest management. IPM STAR was initiated by the IPM Institute with funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Foundation for IPM Education. More than 15 school systems across the country have taken on the challenge in the last nine months.

TAKE ACTION: If your school already has an IPM program in place or other laws regarding pesticide use or right-to-know, find out if they are complying. Work with your school to see what is being done and what still needs to get done. Or, if your school does not already have a program in place, contact Beyond Pesticides to learn how to get your school to adopt an IPM program by:

(1) Identifying the school's pest management policy;
(2) Educating yourself and evaluating the program;
(3) Organizing the school community;
(4) Working with school decision-makers; and,
(5) Becoming a watchdog and establishing an IPM Committee