Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pests Don't Recognize Boundaries. Pest Solutions Shouldn't Either

Twenty years ago, I lived in Germany. I recently re-read some of the first letters I wrote describing my new home. In them, I pointed out everything that was different – from the way windows open to the lack of roadside billboards. But as time went on, I stopped noticing the differences and would only see them again when people came to visit and I could experience the country anew through their eyes.

I’ve incorporated that lesson at work. When I hire people, my first advice to them is to write down everything that seems unexpected or unusual, because through fresh eyes we can see our operation in a new perspective. And there is usually something valuable in what they see and say that veterans in the organization overlook or take for granted.

I’ve been heeding my own advice as I’ve reacquainted myself with integrated pest management activities and needs in the West. I’ve called and met and talked with stakeholders throughout the region, and have been listening and noting what seems unusual. And what stands out is something that doesn’t show up in my notes as often as I expected: areawide IPM.

To me, integrated pest management solutions are rooted in ecosystem-level approaches. This was always clear when I worked in forest pathology, and as I listen to others, I see that some of the most successful ecosystem-level examples of integrated pest management have been ones of areawide cooperation.

Pests don’t have borders. It simply makes sense that IPM shouldn’t stop at borders either, whether that border is at a field or forest, or at a backyard fence or state line.

From last month’s story on safflower to this month’s video on protecting Pacific Northwest watersheds, the Western Integrated Pest Management Center has been highlighting areawide IPM. It isn’t hard to find other examples.

In Montana, wheat streak mosaic virus is best controlled when every farmer eliminates the green bridge, live plants that allow the mite that spreads the disease to survive and move downwind to other fields. Losses from wheat streak mosaic virus can be 100 percent, and with no registered chemicals to control the vector, areawide cooperation is the only way to manage this pest.  

Other successes are found in natural ecosystems where county parks and neighboring communities work together to control the spread of Lyme disease, in agriculture where growers use mating disruption pheromones to reduce codling moth pressure while vastly reducing pesticide use, in multi-state efforts to biologically control leafy spurge, and in communities where fire ants are suppressed while respecting and working with residents opposed to pesticide use.

To battle new pests, there are efforts to expand areawide IPM into communities, enlisting citizen scientists to monitor pest movements. Indeed, Western residents have been called on to participate in areawide monitoring of emerald ash borer, zebra and quagga mussels, brown marmorated stink bug, Asian citrus psyllid and many more.

I see these successes and efforts as examples of why areawide IPM is important. Areawide efforts rely on cooperation between neighbors – whether those neighbors are next door or in the next state – and result in an environmentally responsible, economically viable and regional reduction in pests.

The IPM community in the West should broaden our response to invasive and endemic pests and proactively develop areawide IPM solutions. Solutions shouldn’t come because we’ve run into chemical resistance or regulatory issues, but rather in a proactive effort to slow resistance and reduce risk. After all, as the safflower and codling moth cases show, an integrated, areawide response can improve control and reduce pesticide use.

It’s time to amplify the terms areawide and areawide integrated pest management, and I think we can do that by working cooperatively. Working cooperatively means harnessing citizen scientists to do more than monitor pest movement. Citizens can also be enlisted to prevent and suppress pests. Working cooperatively also means that natural resource managers and farmers can step across their borders and co-develop areawide IPM solutions.

As I mentioned in my first post, we are creating a theory of change for the Center. On a white board in my office, I’ve been writing key ideas for that theory of change and the first word that made it to the board was catalyst. That’s what I think a regional coordination program should do for areawide IPM – act as a catalyst.

So what does it mean for the Center and the region we serve?

It means we will support areawide IPM ideas, practices and research. It means we will encourage pest managers to develop, test and use areawide approaches that make managing pests safer and more economical. It means we will focus on solutions that are novel and can move beyond borders.

As always, let’s continue the conversation.