UNL pilots pest management project at two schools

For the health and well being of students and teachers, as well as the environment, it's better when schools find ways to keep pests out, rather than instinctively reaching for the bug spray after they've gotten in.

A year-long pest management assessment and training program for staff at one Lincoln and one Omaha public school by pesticide education specialists at UNL aims to teach school staff how to keep bugs, mice and other pests out of their schools, rather than just react to them by reaching for the nearest can of pesticide.

"That's always been the traditional way to deal with school insect infestations, but when you've got lots of young people in those schools, it's better for their overall health, not to mention minimizing environmental impacts to soil and water, if spraying pesticide isn't the first thing schools do when there is an insect problem to deal with," said extension associate Erin Bauer, of the UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture's pesticide education office.

She and other Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Institute faculty and staff are conducting the program with staff at Lincoln's Culler and Omaha's Lewis and Clark middle schools.

Beginning this summer, each of the schools will get five visits during the coming year during which any pest infestations will be examined, current treatment methods and chemicals will be looked at and conditions that might allow pests to get into their school will be closely monitored.

In addition to helping the two schools find sustainable, ongoing, non-toxic, non-pesticide ways to deal with any pests they may have lurking in and around their classrooms and hallways, part of the goal over the next year is gaining practical experience to help UNL pesticide experts develop a better program for helping schools with their pest problems, Bauer said.

It's all part of a common-sense based change of mindset, she said.

"It's all about getting past the bug spray as your first line of defense against insects. There are times pesticides are appropriate and warranted, but they should never be the first and automatic choice," she said. "IPM reduces exposure to pesticides, increases human health and safety and protects the environment. We want to teach school staff simple and easily implemented concepts in ways they can relate to, learn from and apply as part of their day-to-day duties. We also want to encourage them to work in coordination with their pest management professionals to maintain IPM practices in their schools."

IPM can mean getting rid of clutter and trash, screening windows, sealing holes, fixing leaks, trapping and using low toxic baits and incorporates tools like protective clothing and equipment, like gloves and HEPA masks when working with droppings, along with flashlights, sticky traps, snap traps, baits and trash bags.

"Putting out sticky traps and learning to identify what they catch is part of the program," Bauer said. "After properly identifying a pest and determining the extent of the problem, schools will have a better idea how to control them."

Though only Lewis and Clark and Culler middle schools are part of the year-long UNL pilot program, other school administrators or pest management professionals that may be interested in the program may be able to accompany Bauer and her colleagues on one of the training and evaluation sessions. To look into that possibility, contact her at (402) 472-9548. Those interested in the program can also follow it online at Bauer's blog, "IPM in the Schools: The Nebraska Experience."

Funding for this IPM project is provided by a U.S. Department of Agriculture-NIFA IPM grant, and through this effort, UNL is contributing to a national initiative called "School IPM 2015: A Strategic Plan for Integrated Pest Management In Schools in the United States," whose goal is to bring integrated pest management into daily school use nationwide, thus reducing routine pesticide use.

More details at: http://go.unl.edu/noh