TO: Bill Letteri, Public Works Director
FROM: Curtis Brooks, Landscape Architect/Urban Forester
SUBJECT: Follow-up Report on Integrated Pest Management
DATE: March 16, 2006
The purpose of this report is to provide follow-up information about the Town’s Least Toxic Pest Management Plan in response to questions raised by the Council when they received a response to a petition from Ms. Julie Vann on November 21, 2005.
On October 3, 2005 the Council was sent a petition from Ms. Julie Vann requesting that the Town adopt an Integrated Pest Management Plan (Attachment 1). On November 21, 2005 the Council received a report from the Town Manager in response to Ms. Vann’s petition (Attachment 2). This report provided information about the Town’s Least Toxic Integrated Pest Management Policy, adopted by the Council on July 7, 1999, and included a copy of the Town’s most recent annual pesticide application report. At that meeting a Council Member raised concerns about the Town’s use of contracted landscape maintenance companies to apply pesticides at Town maintained Bermuda grass ball fields and at the Strowd Rose Garden. At that time the Council also requested that the staff contact Mr. Allen Spalt, former director of the Pesticide Education Project, and seek his advice for possible improvements to the Town’s landscape maintenance practices.
On November 24, 2005 the Council was sent a follow-up letter from Ms. Vann requesting specifically that the Town eliminate the use of herbicides on Town properties (Attachment 3). On January 30, 2006 the Council was sent a letter from Ms. Fawn Pattison, Executive Director of the Pesticide Education Project, identifying concerns she has with the Town’s Integrated Pest Management Program (Attachment 4). On February 13, 2006 the Council directed that the staff meet with the Council’s Sustainability, Energy and Environment Committee to review Ms. Pattison’s concerns.
The Town’s Integrated Pest Management Policy was developed in an effort to minimize the use of pesticides on Town owned properties and assure that when pesticides are deemed necessary to address pest problems that they are applied appropriately. An essential component of the policy is the designation of an Integrated Pest Management Coordinator responsible for determining what pest management strategies should be employed to address pest problems and, if it is determined that pesticides are to be applied, keeping detailed records of these pesticide applications. Robert Minick, the Town’s Landscape Superintendent, is the Town’s designated Integrated Pest Management Coordinator.
The fundamental issue that the Integrated Pest Management Coordinator must address is determining when pesticide applications are the most reasonable method of addressing pest problems. This issue is a complex one that requires understanding the relative cost and effectiveness of different pest control strategies while maintaining a commitment to minimizing pesticide exposure to Town employees, the public and the environment. In light of recent concerns raised about pesticide use Town staff has sought advice from a number of horticulture and pesticide experts to assist us in responding to these concerns.
On February 8, 2006, Town staff met with Mr. Allen Spalt, former director of the Pesticide Education Project to review the Town’s landscape maintenance practices. Mr. Spalt was consulted in 1999, when the Town developed its Least Toxic Integrated Pest Management Policy, and in this most recent meeting he indicated his support for the Policy. He did, however, also indicate concerns about how the policy has been implemented, noting that the Town had not set specific goals for reducing pesticide use and also questioning the practices of the Town’s pest control subcontractors responsible for the Strowd Rose Garden, the Bermuda grass ball fields and some Town owned buildings. Noting that Round-up herbicide is the primary pesticide used by Town staff he recommended that the Town consider setting a goal for reducing the amount of Round-up the Town uses. He suggested that an annual reduction of 10% would be a reasonable first step. Regarding the practices of the Town’s pest control subcontractors, he encouraged the staff to negotiate with these contractor’s and/or other pest control contractors to develop pest control strategies that would either eliminate or reduce the amount pesticides used. While noting these concerns, Mr. Spalt also commended the Town on its practice of requiring that Town staff members receive Commercial Pesticide Applicators Licenses before being permitted to handle any pesticides. This licensure process includes annual education and testing requirements.
After discussing our current landscape maintenance practices with Mr. Spalt and consulting with horticultural experts at North Carolina State University and elsewhere, we believe that implementation of the Town’s Least Toxic Integrated Pest Management Plan could be updated. We believe that pest control at the Strowd Rose Garden and the Bermuda grass ball fields offers unique challenges and updates in those areas are discussed separately below.
Update on Implementation of the Town’s Least Toxic Pest Management Policy:
The Town’s Landscape Division currently undertakes a number of pest management practices that are not explicitly noted in the Town’s Least Toxic Pest Management Policy but we believe deserve to be noted as a component of this implementation update. They include the following:
In addition to these ongoing practices we recommend that our implementation practices be updated to reflect the following:
We believe that negotiating with subcontractors, prior to signing a contract, in an effort to reduce the amounts of pesticides they apply may result in a decrease in overall pesticide use on Town owned properties. We believe that setting an incremental goal to reduce the amount of Round-up used by Town Landscape Division staff is also reasonable but that it may result in a reduction in some level of maintenance service. Examples of areas where maintenance service levels may initially decrease include the control of weeds growing in sidewalk and pavement cracks and along fence rows on some Town owned properties.
Update on Pest Control at the Strowd Rose Garden:
The Strowd Rose Garden is a collection of approximately 470 rose bushes grown in massed plantings in raised brick edged planters. The plantings include some climbing, miniature and shrub type roses that are reasonably pest resistant, along with a larger number of floribunda, grandiflora and hybrid tea roses that are known for their susceptibility to insect and disease pests. Its design and ongoing maintenance needs are typical of rose demonstration gardens in the Southeast United States. Pest management in the garden is currently subcontracted to Witherspoon Roses, the largest rose maintenance company in the area. This service contract, as well as the cost of any needed replacement bushes and other extraordinary maintenance, is funded by the Strowd family estate.
Witherspoon Roses current pest management practices include scheduled applications of insecticides; to control aphids, thrips and Japanese beetles, and fungicides: to control black spot disease. Although this type of scheduled preventative pesticide use is different from the practices employed elsewhere on Town owned properties and does not appear fully consistent with the Town’s Least Toxic Pest Management Policy, information provided to us by several rose experts suggests that it may be reasonable.
Subsequent to the staff meeting with Mr. Spalt we contacted several sources for information on the pest control requirements of roses and measures the Town could consider for minimizing the use of pesticides at the Strowd Rose Garden. We talked to Dr. Dennis Werner, Director of the J C Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University, Ms. Anne Clapp, Curator of the JC Raulston Arboretum Rose Garden, and Louis Cobb and Terry Ellis, two local Consulting Rosarians referred to us by the North Carolina Rose Society, and received very consistent recommendations based on their own experiences. All of these sources indicated that the primary objective in maintaining roses is to prevent black spot, a fungal disease, from establishing itself in the garden as many of the common rose varieties, including essentially all of the hybrid tea roses, are highly susceptible to this disease and would likely die once infected. Accordingly, they suggested that a preventative fungicide application program is necessary, especially in mass plantings where infected plants will quickly spread the disease. They indicated that the Town’s current program of fungicide applications approximately every 10 days during the growing season is typical of programs used at other rose demonstration gardens but that a slightly longer standard interval between applications, of perhaps two weeks, would probably still be effective. They also indicated that in periods of particularly dry weather, it may also be possible to delete one scheduled application or extend the application interval longer than the two week standard interval that they recommended.
Regarding the scheduled preventative applications of insecticides, the sources we consulted with indicated that other approaches, based on scouting the garden for insect pests prior to insecticide use, may provide reasonable results. They noted that damage done by thrips is often hard to detect until blooms open so that some increased insect damage should be anticipated without preventative pesticide applications but that in general the vigor of the plants can likely be maintained without the level of insecticide applications the Town has recently employed.
In response to the information we have received from these rose experts we recommend that our implementation practices be updated to reflect the following:
We believe that the above recommended updates to our implementation practices at the Strowd Rose Garden will significantly reduce the amount of insecticides applied and will reduce fungicide use to the minimum needed to maintain the garden in its current form. We believe that if additional restrictions on the use of pesticides are determined to be warranted that a significant redesign of the garden, utilizing different plant varieties will need to be considered.
Update on Pest Control at the Bermuda Grass Ball Fields:
In response to questions raised about pest management practices at the Town’s Bermuda grass ball fields, Town staff met with Mr. Jimmy Walter, Athletic Field Supervisor for the SAS Soccer Complex in Cary and conferred with Dr. Richard Cooper, Turfgrass Agronomist at North Carolina State University. Dr. Cooper previously assisted the Town in developing a restoration plan for the Homestead Park soccer fields when they began to rapidly decline in quality in their second year of use and has provided a written explanation of his recommended pest management plan that the Town has been using since 2001 (attachment 6).
Dr. Cooper’s report provides a clear explanation of why hybrid Bermuda grass is used on the ball fields and what is required to maintain its vigor, thereby avoiding expensive turf restoration projects like that undertaken by the Town at Homestead Park in 2001. In summary, the report explains the value of limited applications of pre-emergent weed control and notes that the Town has not applied any insecticides or fungicides since his turf management plan has been adopted.
We believe that our current implementation practices as reflected in Dr. Cooper’s report are important steps in maintaining the usability of the ball fields thereby protecting the considerable investment the Town has made in their development. We note that our implementation practices involve less pesticide use than those at the SAS Soccer Complex and significantly less than the practices typically included in residential and commercial turf grass management contracts. Although the work is done by a local turf grass management contractor, we believe that it is not typical of most chemical based turf grass maintenance programs, and reasonably reflects the Town’s goal to minimize pesticide use.
In order to further reduce the Town’s use of pesticides on the Bermuda grass ball fields we have discussed the current pesticide application schedule with Dr. Cooper and our turf grass management contractor and believe that some modifications can be recommended that will still provide the Town with fully safe and usable turf. In response to these discussions we recommend that our implementation practices be updated to reflect the following:
In addition to these updated implementation practices we note that the Town shares use and maintenance of the Scroggs Elementary School ball field with the Chapel Hill Carrboro School System and because the Town’s maintenance responsibility is limited to the summer months the Town will not contract for any pesticide applications at that location. In order to reduce the public’s exposure to pesticides we will share the Town’s Integrated Pest Management Policy and the above recommended implementation practices with the School System and encourage them to adopt similar practices.
We believe that the above recommended updates to the Town’s Least Toxic Integrated Pest Management Policy implementation policies will reduce the amount of pesticides used on Town owned properties and decrease pesticide exposure to the public and the environment. We believe that these proposed updates can be accommodated with minimal impact to the Town’s maintenance resources and only a modest decrease in the level of landscape maintenance service, and represent a significant commitment on the part of the Town to protect its citizens while providing adequately maintained fully functional landscape areas.