IPM – Let’s Build A New Model!

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IPM – Let’s Build A New Model!

It has long been my contention, that we have been approaching the pest problem in the wrong way. The reason I, believe, is that we have been trying to start to late in the game. Almost all entomologists, and pest professionals agree that we create most of our own pest problems. Why we have not used that as a starting point, is unclear. Integrated pest management has been a dumping ground for half baked ideas , and ad hoc methods, a sort of strange alchemic recipe, that comes to us only partially cooked, and unsatisfying.

I recently read an article, which said, that the official story is not to be believed, that IPM is a failure! The sad thing is, that the guy was right! IPM, as we are defining and using it at this time, will not solve the problems we want it to. It wasn’t designed to. It has been gradually built up from an incomplete model, which starts with the assumption that all insect problems are a result of what nature does. Every botanist and entomologist I have ever spoken with, knows, that most of the problems with insects, are a result of something we have done, or, are doing.

IPM: Building a Prevention Model

Face it, we live in a world with a lot of problems that we will never be able to solve. We can, however, exercise a certain amount of control over these troubles, by using the tools we have developed over time. At some point, we should begin to see patterns to the problems, and try to trace these back to a cause.

I know the temptation is to deal with the problem at hand, and forget about it until the next time it arises. It is the “fireman” approach to problems. I once worked with an organization that existed by this method. The results were not favorable.

My question in that situation, was: “Why not PREVENT the fires to begin with?” The answer always involved details of why it would have cost too much to have done it right to begin with. They really thought that saving a few bucks in the early stages was more cost effective than doing it right, and saving the added expense of attempting to “maintain it out” through the coming years!

Our standard definitions of IPM fall into the “fireman” category. We should be in the prevention mode, but we are just treating symptoms.

We have problems with pests in schools, parks and homes, in most cases, because we create them by our actions. Not that the pests are not already there, but that we provide habitats for them and increase their numbers. We are far enough along in entomology, to know what our pests like to eat, where they like to live, and what types of cover they prefer, yet, we create environments favorable to them, and are astonished when they move in! This is true of all pests, including weeds and grassy weeds. We have difficulty with “goose grass”, because we are trying to have a lawn where a hard-scape should exist, and the compaction resulting from foot traffic prevents anything else from growing there. We have sand burrs, because we have incorporated an area with low fertility where nothing else will grow, and they spring up as a result of poor design, or poor cultural practices.

There are far too many pests to attempt to write out each case individually, So I have chosen one of the more devastating ones from the perspective of disease and health care, the mosquito, to serve as our model, logical extensions to dealing with other pests by using the prevention model should simply be a matter of transferring the concepts.

The Mosquito Model:

The mosquito is a member of the colcide family of flies, gains sustenance from penetrating and withdrawing blood from it’s victim with it’s long needle like proboscis, and is a carrier of many diseases, including malaria, the worlds largest, deadliest, disease killer, West Nile virus, encephalitis, yellow fever and others. As diseases mutate, we can expect to see more of them using mosquitoes as hosts and transfer agents.

Mosquitoes exist, they will never go away, we cannot eradicate them, and even if we could, it would, most likely cause an an ecological disaster. We have to deal with them. We use large quantities of pesticide to kill them, that is the band aid on the bullet hole, and may be making matters worse. So, how do we avoid the problem?

The first thing I would say, is stop building next door to swamps! Certainly, they can be drained, but will they be drained? How effective will it be, and how expensive? This can, and in many cases, should be done, but it is better to avoid building a school or park, or home in the vicinity to begin with.

Second, stop building things which will cause swamps to develop, or, at least, stop building things in ways that would cause swamps to develop.

This would seem to be as self evident as the fact that water is wet, but every day, I see it happening in construction sites and lawns in my area. I have observed as people with horticultural related degrees, draw up plans , and implement them, when the results should be obvious, but the extension from project to problem, is rarely made. The same is true of architects and engineers, some of whom have apparently come to believe that their blueprint can actually make water defy the laws of gravity. This is where we must begin. This will be continued in the next article.

James Burns is a licensed pest control, lawn, garden, and landscape professional, and the owner of Rational Environmental Solutions, an IPM based service and information company specializing in “non native” pest problems and aquatic pest control.

You can view his website at: http://www.rationalenvironmentalsolutions.com

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