IPM in action around Charlottesville Credit: Credit: City of Charlottesville

Charlottesville’s Integrated Pest Management approach has been in use for over 10 years, but City Council only adopted it as an official policy in April 2015.

Monday night, city landscape manager and IPM coordinator John Mann delivered the first report on the program’s efficacy and future objectives, including the increased use of organic products.

Mann began by revisiting the policy’s four objectives: elimination of significant threats caused by pests to health and safety of the public; prevention of pest-related loss or damage of city-owned assets and property; protection of environmental quality; and a progressive move over time to reduce chemical pest controls.

“When we say pesticides, it is not just for insects. Pesticides are [for] any pests that create an issue than needs to be controlled in some form,” Mann said. “We basically use little or no insecticides or fungicides…The biggest threat, and much of what the report addresses of course, is herbicide issues and using [herbicides] on public properties.”

While landscape staff devote all of their time to IPM, only 4 percent of that time consists of pesticide use. The rest is devoted to pruning, mulching and related methods of maintaining plant health.

Mann described efforts to limit pesticide use overall.

“The bottom line is pesticide applications, if they are necessary, are well-thought-out, well-timed, well-carried-out and documented,” Mann said. “I think that’s the whole goal overall of Integrated Pest Management.”

Mann said the single most important issue was weed control in the right-of-way where 43 percent of the herbicide use takes place.  This includes roadways, sidewalks and entryways, mostly hard surfaces which deteriorate significantly due to invasive plant growth.

Mann said safely combating weeds in these heavily-trafficked areas presents an ongoing challenge.

“Our parks are overrun with invasive plant material,” Mann said, accounting for the 21 percent of herbicide use which takes place in parks. “Unbeknownst to many people we do not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides on grass and turf in our parks and school grounds. It is very safe to picnic, bring your dog … [the grass] is green and it’s safe.”

A clever, environmentally-friendly IPM method employed in Pen Park involved the use of goats to chew down invasive plant material. The goats cleared weed growth and allowed volunteers to attack the actual stumps of harmful vines, opening space for native plants

“One thing we would like to see is to move more toward organics, primarily at school sites.”

John Mann, Charlottesville’s landscape manager and IPM coordinator

Dovetailing on the night’s earlier presentation to Council from the City Tree Commission, Mann discussed the IPM Policy’s contributions to combating urban canopy loss.

In areas around High Street and Clark School, Charlottesville’s few remaining Elm trees have been successfully treated against Dutch Elm Disease.  Eighteen irreplaceable older ash trees will be treated this month to protect against Emerald Ash Borers.

“One thing we would like to see is to move more toward organics, primarily at school sites,” Mann said. “I think that that’s a doable thing if we have the support of the Council.”

Though pesticides are not used on grass in school areas, the presence of any synthetic pesticides on school grounds where children may be present has been a matter of public concern.

“Do you have any idea what it would cost for us to move to organics only on school grounds?” asked councilor Kristin Szakos.

Mann responded that the increased labor associated with organic pesticides would result in a fivefold increase in cost over synthetic pesticides. However, he noted the actual monetary increase may be relatively small due to the low quantity of herbicides in use.

Szakos and other members of Council called for the Parks and Recreation to prepare a cost estimate for the switch to organics.

“IPM stresses the fact that you use the least harmful product to get the job done,” Mann explained. “In this case, the products we use are all considered ‘caution,’ which is slightly toxic to non-toxic. This is the same product available to any homeowner at any store where they can buy garden products.”

Mann also discussed moving away from pesticides like RoundUp and largely forgoing dangerous tools like “Weed-Dragons” — high-powered torches used to burn weeds which can inadvertently crack concrete and start unwanted fires.

Councilor Bob Fenwick asked about the posing of warning signs for chemical applications.

“When you do the targeted herbicides, do you stick a little sign in the ground and say ‘We’ve done this today, don’t come near it’?” asked Fenwick.

Mann said that was the practice and that they will be switching to signs which specify organic or synthetic products in the hopes of increasing transparency and easing residents’ concerns about pesticide use.

In keeping with the IPM Policy’s measured approach and degree of environmental consciousness, he suggested that “a negative can become a positive as long as people understand it’s not indiscriminate use.”