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Integrated Pest Management

The City of Carlsbad recently updated its “Integrated Pest Management Plan” to place an even higher priority on the use of products and approaches that have the least potential for negative effects on human health and the environment.

What’s changed?

The city last updated its Integrated Pest Management Plan in 2003. As a result of changes in industry standards, regulations and community concerns, city staff drafted and the City Council adopted the updated plan. It takes a broad approach, to include all city maintained or operated land and facilities. The previous plan focused on parks. The new plan also places a priority on the use of non-chemical products and methods. Although the city anticipates cost and aesthetics to be affected by the new plan, the city will still honor the need to be responsible with taxpayer money and the desire to have attractive landscaping and facilities.

Where will this new approach be used?

The city’s Integrated Pest Management plan applies to all city owned and operated parks, open space areas, trails, rights of way (such as along city sidewalks), street medians and city buildings. It also applies to the portions of 10 school sites maintained by the City of Carlsbad under a joint use agreements with the Carlsbad Unified School District, the Encinitas Union School District, and the San Marcos School District. Those school sites include: Hope, Kelly, Jefferson, Buena Vista, Magnolia, La Costa Meadows, La Costa Heights Elementary, Aviara Oaks and Valley Middle, and Carlsbad High.  

When will it start?

The City Council directed staff to begin implementation of the updated plan following the Dec. 5, 2017, City Council meeting, when the plan was adopted. 

Does this mean all use of chemicals will stop immediately?

No. The first steps are to educate city staff and contractors on the updated Integrated Pest Management Plan and execute amendments to contracts/approve proposals with landscaping and building maintenance companies to reflect the new plan (including the applicable approaches and costs). These two steps are expected to be completed by mid-2018. 

Once the new plan is fully operationalized, the city may continue to utilize approved chemical products in these instances – but only if approved by a specially trained supervisor:

  • To protect public safety
  • To prevent a threat to sensitive species or native habitats
  • To assist in meeting regulatory compliance requirements
  • To prevent economic loss - when pests cannot be managed by other tactics

What is included in the definition of “pests?”

Pests refer to insects, rodents, weeds and other living things that could have a negative effect on the health and appearance of landscaping and other public property.

Are the chemical products used by the city unsafe?

The city only uses products and approaches that have been approved by state and federal agencies responsible for protecting human health and the environment. Some studies appear to link prolonged or extreme exposure to certain approved chemical products to negative health effects. At this time, scientists for state and federal agencies have not found evidence to warrant changes to approved chemical products as they are currently used.

Why is the city moving away from chemical products if it’s not required by law?

Since the 1970s, the city has operated under procedures that consider natural products and approaches because this has been a “best management practice” for protecting public health and the environment. 

What are some examples of non-chemical products and methods?

There are many non-chemical products and methods that can effectively manage pests, including:

  • Hand pulling of weeds
  • Placement of mulch and weed barriers
  • Promptly removing fallen fruit
  • Adjusting watering schedules
  • Planting species that are disease resistant and well adapted to our climate
  • Trapping rodents

Do non-chemical products and methods work?

The effectiveness of non-chemical products and methods depends on many variables. In some cases they work just as well as chemical alternatives, and on others they do not. That’s why the city’s approach is to start with non-chemical products and methods and only switch to other methods if needed.

Will the appearance of parks, fields and other landscaping decline as a result of the new plan?

They could. In 2016-17, the city conducted an informal 15-month pilot program at 10 school sites under its maintenance responsibility. (The city has agreements with the three districts to maintain portions of some school sites.) The sites showed a greater number of weeds and burrowing rodents during this time, with a moderate effect on the athletic fields’ aesthetics and playability (ability of the fields to be used without significant concerns about trips and falls, unevenness of the turf, etc.). During the pilot program, city staff received relatively few complaints about field conditions. City staff will monitor the appearance of its landscaping and include this information when it reports back to the City Council after the first year of full implementation.

Is using non-chemical products and methods more expensive?

In many cases, yes. Costs include the time required to implement the more natural methods and the cost of the products needed. The city estimates the new plan will result in an increased cost of approximately $1 million a year. City staff will track the costs during the first full year of implementation to determine the projected actual cost in the future.

Under the new plan, how will the city decide what products and approaches to use and when?

When monitoring shows that pest treatment is needed, the city will decide which products and approaches to use based on these criteria:

  1. Least hazardous to human health
  2. Least disruptive of natural controls in landscape situations
  3. Least toxic to non-target organisms other than natural controls
  4. Most likely to be permanent and prevent recurrence of the pest problem
  5. Easiest to carry out safely and effectively
  6. Most cost effective in the long term
  7. Appropriate to the site and maintenance system

Consideration will also be given to the location of the site so that chemical products are avoided to the greatest extent practicable in areas heavily utilized by the public.

Where can I get more information?

Dec. 5 Staff Report

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

California Department of Pesticide Regulation

County of San Diego Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

Think Blue Pest Management Tips