Daily News Archive
From February 16, 2006                                                                                                        

Volunteer Buffalo Pest Management Board Wins Award
(Beyond Pesticides, February 16, 2006) David Hahn-Baker never planned to learn all about rats. But when he joined eight colleagues on the Buffalo, N.Y. Pest Management Board, founded in 1990, rat biology was part of the learning curve. Rats in people’s trash cans, beetles chewing the leaves off Buffalo’s elm trees, grubs in the golf courses—these problems became the Board’s concerns. For their can-do attitude in helping to solve these and similar problems, the board, most of them volunteers, has been awarded the “Excellence in IPM Award” by the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program.

“A rat’s job is not to be seen,” Mr. Hahn-Baker explains. “They don’t want to live more than a hundred feet or so from where their food is.” Prevent their access to food and shelter, he says, and they will move on. Hahn-Baker chairs the board. “You know you’ve succeeded when your neighbors complain that they have rats," he jokes. But an entire neighborhood can manage rats he says, by using sensible IPM preventive measures—including heavy duty, tightly lidded rubber garbage cans that rats can’t chew through.

The City of Buffalo distributed about 150,000 of these cans—called totes—to businesses and households beginning in 1997. “They really work, forcing rats to seek alternate food sources—to the chagrin of Buffalo’s first ring suburbs,” says Phil Nasca, deputy director of Building Operations for the City of Buffalo and a former member of the Pest Management Board. Using totes properly is key, Mr. Nasca says. They should never be overloaded and their heavy lid must be closed completely. Nasca notes that cleaning up birdseed and dog doo is also critical to rat control—“it’s high protein, and rats can live off it.” The Town of Tonawanda has received estimates ranging from $1.2 to $2.3 million to provide residents with totes.

Mr. Nasca leads IPM efforts in the buildings under his care. “The nice part about having learned IPM is that I can identify and correct structural deficiencies that allow vermin entry to our facilities,” he says. “This means I can correct a situation in a least-toxic manner before it turns into something bigger.”

Buffalo also maintains 863 miles of streets and their 66,000 trees. One of the first big problems the Pest Management Board tackled was spraying for beetles on the elm trees. “The year the city quit spraying, the beetle populations crashed,” Mr. Hahn-Baker says. “Apparently the pesticides had been killing the predatory insects that naturally keep the beetles in check.”

Next the group took on grubs. One year, the turf on the city’s golf courses suddenly turned brown and died. “It looked terrible,” says Hahn-Baker. “They wanted to put down pesticide. So we got scores of volunteers out there, and we all learned how to scout for grubs.” Scouting, a classic IPM practice, compares the problem with scientific thresholds to tell if or when to treat. The volunteers found that by the time the damage became visible, the grubs had already gone. “That treatment would have been wasted,” Mr. Hahn-Baker explains.

Soon after, Buffalo residents Common Council voted in a pesticide phase-out. The 1998 law permits low-risk sprays, but only when there is no alternative. Buffalo was the nation’s second city to adopt such a law. New York City is the most recent municipality to vote in a pesticide phase-out. Now the Pest Management Board is working to become a committee of Buffalo’s Environmental Management Committee. “We want to do more with less,” Hahn-Baker says.

Don Rutz, director of the New York State IPM Program, will present the award on February 23 at Buffalo’s City Hall. “This is a proactive, hands-on group,” says Mr. Rutz. “They're a great model for how communities can approach controversial issues around pesticides.”

The New York State IPM Program is a partnership between New York State and Cornell University. Find out more about IPM at www.nysipm.cornell.edu.