New manual serves as blueprint for pest management

Grounds Supervisor Rob Hallett piloted the IPM manual to completion, giving the city of Eugene a guidebook for pest management.
Photos by Todd Richards, city of Eugene.

Eugene, Ore., has created an integrated pest management plan that was researched and written by city employees. Two years in the making, this manual might seem to require a lot of manpower for an IPM document used only by select employees, according to Rob Hallett, but the manual addresses issues ranging from grounds staff training to public relations. Of course, it also focuses on the tough topics of how to control pests in a variety of situations in the parks, medians and other municipal landscaping situations in Eugene.

Hallett, the turf and grounds operation supervisor for the city, admits that he was the person who initiated the idea to produce an IPM document. “It was one of my pet peeves when I got to the city,” he says, because Eugene was a green city and aimed to use the least toxic chemicals in the most progressive way possible, yet it had no guiding program. He has been with the city for nine years, and two years ago he set up a core group of four grounds employees to focus on creating a manual. Since then, about a dozen people have had input into it, all working part time as time was available.

The result was the city’s “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Policy and Operations Manual,” a 75-page document for the public works department that gives an extremely clear and useful guideline for the control of pests at the city’s 75 park sites where turf is grown. Of course, it can be used for any other settings where pest control might be an issue, as it addresses situations as different as bioswales, landscape beds, tree wells, medians and natural areas. One big focus is turf, but it also has guidelines for waterways, woodlands and community gardens, among other things. Released in June of 2009, it has already helped change the way the city thinks about landscape management overall.

“There’s a strategic planning process that takes place now,” says Hallett, who is a former landscape contractor and golf course worker with a dedication to the “green” philosophy. He points out that Eugene has long been a city that prides itself on progressive landscape management, and its citizens require it. A variety of short IPM plans preceding this one helped the focus, but this manual provides a solid blueprint for city workers to follow in most any pest management situation. Even more, it has outlined best management practices based on principals established in the document.

The result, Hallett says, is a management program that always refers back to the manual’s guiding principles, and as a result, gives a sound basis for landscaping in a way that ultimately uses the fewest toxic materials and gives sustainable horticultural growth. When referring to the different habitat areas, employees can immediately tie in to recommended management strategies pertinent to the different sites and situations. These are only briefly outlined, yet they provide enough information to give guiding principles, and they have been derived from scientific sources, as well as the long-term successful practices of Eugene employees and the employees of other municipalities.

Only a few months old, the manual has already given guidance to the training of new employees, as well as redirection of long-time employees. The document is used to indoctrinate new employees and help them understand the underlying principles of the city’s landscape management program. It helps old employees break bad habits. Individual sections can be pulled out and used for training or review by any parks and open space working group. The goal is to soon have copies in the field for worker reference on any job.

Starting with a simple definition of a pest, the manual quickly focuses on each “maintenance mode” used by the city. These are the standards by which each habitat or park will be maintained, from those in natural areas to those in developed parks with turf, landscape trees, playgrounds and other features. From there, the manual goes on to examine overall city IPM policy and the different habitat types in detail. It has pesticide use guidelines and a policy for the posting and notification of the public about pesticide applications.

Finally, it gives guidelines for one of the most often-used pesticide programs: the management of specific weeds in normal turf areas and in sports fields. These guidelines outline management practices, both cultural and chemical, for weed control. By getting employees to think about the overall strategy rather than a simple, repeated spray regimen, Hallett says the manual can be used to change weed management practices in simple ways that can result in overall dramatic changes to the city’s program.

He cites the example of a weed, red stem filaree, which always crops up on the dirt infields of the city’s softball fields in the winter and grows into a sizable pest by the spring. In the past, this winter annual emerged prior to the start of softball field prep and was well established and difficult to get rid of. As a result, it was always sprayed with herbicides as a last resort.

“We’re changing our past practices,” Hallett says, because the IPM manual addresses the red stem filaree’s progress and how to kill it early. It stipulates that either the use of a roterra mechanical device, hand pulling or burning in November will get the plants before they are established. Usually, chemical means are not needed after that. If they are, a particular herbicide is stipulated in the manual.

Hallett says that a lot of weed problems in the past have come from poor soil in parks and other sites. An example is high potassium levels, which encouraged the growth of dandelions and other weeds. By thinking strategically, employees now are focused not on controlling the weeds as much as using soil tests and better fertilizer management to avoid those weeds.

“Growing a healthy, dense stand of grass, that’s what we’re focusing on,” Hallett emphasizes. In this short period of time he hasn’t noticed an appreciable difference in the overall health of city turfgrass, but he says pesticide use has dropped by an estimated 15 percent. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the city’s chemical budget will drop, because more money might be spent on appropriate soil amendments or nutrients instead.

Another need that the manual addresses is the public relations requirements in Eugene. This is the kind of city where many of the calls to public works are from residents who notice employees spraying chemicals and want to know what it’s all about and why it’s necessary. The IPM manual is just as important for this function as it is for pest management, Hallett says.

The document not only ensures that employees use chemicals as a last resort, but gives them documentation to show residents to prove that everything else that could have been done has been done prior to spraying. In addition, the manual sets up a stringent posting and notification program that lets citizens know in advance what chemicals are being used and why. It has already gone a long way toward making the city’s spray program more transparent, as well as decreasing the number of calls objecting to any and all treatments.

“For the most part, our employees have taken to this,” Hallett says. There is an inherent resistance on the part of some people to changing practices that have gone on for years, but this winter there will be more intensive training on the use of the manual as a guiding force. It hasn’t, as some people feared, added more paperwork to the process. He hopes that by spring all crews will be “up to speed and working” based on those guiding principles.

The city of Eugene’s IPM manual emphasizes that growing healthy turf, with practices such as drill-seeding soccer goals, is the ticket to good pest management.

As for the employees who do the final chemical applications, Hallett emphasizes that there will be strict rules in place for treatment. There will be discussions with supervisors, based on the IPM guidelines, that will determine procedures. The city has already been using “monitoring forms” that record many landscaping activities, such as irrigation and spray applications, and these will become more common in order to make sure workers adhere to the manual’s guidelines.

This will not be a set of rules written in stone, he emphasizes. The input of employees will be critical in making changes as better practices and methods are discovered. The best IPM manual will just get better and better.

For a look at the city of Eugene’s IPM manual, go to www.eugene-or.gov.

Don Dale resides in Altadena, Calif., and is a frequent contributor to Turf. He has covered the green industry for more than 10 years.