THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BUGLY
By Richard "The Bugman" Fagerlund
What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.
- Chief Seattle
People always ask me if I am against the use of pesticides. My answer is “No, of course not.” Pesticides have a role to play in our society. However, that role is often abused and misused to the detriment of the environment and society.
In Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring”, she warned us about the problems that widespread use of chemical pesticides would cause. As a direct result of her effort, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 and, ultimately, DDT was banned in 1972. Nevertheless, our use of pesticides is growing exponentially every year. We use more than twice as many pesticides now than we did in 1962 when “Silent Spring”was published.
Pesticides are used in almost all public buildings, offices, golf courses, schools, food establishments, hotels, motels, hospitals and private homes as well as in agriculture. Residues in our food and environment reflectmany years of pesticide usage. There are continuing problems with runoff from agricultural applications, ground water contamination and disposal of unused pesticides as hazardous waste.
A major use (or misuse) of pesticides is in treating cotton for pests. Consider that at least nine pests, (boll weevils, tobacco budworms, cotton aphids, cotton fleahoppers, cotton leafworms, cotton leaf-perforators, lygus bugs, pink bollworms and thrips), do serious damage to cotton. Then consider that over two dozen pesticides are used, or have been used on cotton to control those pests. This should make anyone afraid to wear cotton shorts!
Now consider that only two pests (the European corn borer and hempborer) are serious pests on hemp and they generally don’t require any pesticides to control. Many other insects feed on hemp, but they only do minimal damage and do not require pesticides.
Having considered the two statements above, you have to wonder why hemp is not grown all over the country, as it would be a very valuable crop. Hemp is an herbaceous annual with a woody stem and reaches a height of 19 feet. Hemp stalks have a woody core surrounded by a bark layer containing long fibers. Hemp breeders have developed varieties with increased stem fiber content and decreased levels of delta-9-tetrahydro-cannibol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana--and therein lies the problem. But that is another column.
One of the problems with pesticides is that we are exposed to them without knowing it. Many buildings, including schools, receive pesticide applications prior to or during occupation by people. It is absurd that we don’t allow smoking in public buildings so we won’t get exposed to secondhand smoke, but we allow pesticides to be sprayed which can do as much damage as secondhand cigarette smoke.
We are making headway on this issue. Mayor Chavez, to his credit, has instructed his Environment and Parks and Recreation Departments to post notices prior to any pesticide use on city property and prior to any mosquito spraying if spraying is necessary (and it shouldn’t be). He is also eliminating pesticide use at the city animal shelters. I will be working with the shelters to help them control bugs without using toxic pesticides.
Currently they are spraying liquid pesticides in animal shelters to control cockroaches. Liquid pesticides can cause health problems with animals, and the mayor is going to stop the practice. I will be showing the personnel at the animal shelters how to use baits, such as Niban, and pheromone traps to control the roaches. Niban Bait is made from boric acid and will be placed where animals can’t walk in it. I will also recommend that they put screens under the drain caps to keep the roaches from coming into the buildings via floor drains. I will also recommend additional exclusionary practices they can adopt to keep the roaches out.
I also sent Mayor Chavez legislation that I think the city council should adopt. It would require any public building to post a notice prior to any pesticide application so shoppers or visitors to the facility won’t unknowingly be exposed to pesticides. If you support citywide notification, then send a note to your city councilor. I will also be lobbying the state on pesticide issues as well, including not dumping herbicides all over the place to try to kill a few salt cedar trees.
Speaking of salt cedar trees, there is a plan to introduce beetles to help control the pest tree. This is not a good idea. Whenever the government introduces an exotic species to control another exotic species, there are unintended consequences.
When they introduced the Asian Ladybird beetle years ago, it became a major pest by entering homes in large numbers during the winter. Many people call an exterminator to spray or fog large amounts of pesticides to kill these beetles. The USDA says that the salt cedar beetle they plan to introduce winters in the ground in Kazakhstan where it comes from. Anyone who has ever been to Kazakhstan will tell you it doesn’t have any other choice, because there is nowhere else it can go. Once you turn the beetle loose in this country, I guarantee it will find our homes much more attractive places to spend the winter than digging into the ground. Leave the beetles in Kazakhstan and don’t dump herbicides all over the place. If we have to get rid of salt cedar trees, then why don’t we just transport in a few truckloads of low- risk inmates from the prison system and let them cut the trees down? It would be a lot more environmentally friendly and probably a lot cheaper.
Pesticides don’t negatively affect everyone. I have been around pesticides for over thirty years and I am in pretty good health and my kids aren’t too funny looking (well, maybe my son is a little weird), but that doesn’t mean pesticides are safe. People react differently to pesticide exposure. I would rather we didn’t use these toxins unless they are absolutely necessary.
Richard Fagerlund, B.C.E., aka “The Bugman,” works in integrated pest management and is a syndicated columnist for the Albuquerque Journal and other pubications. Write to him at:
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131
Office: (505) 277-9904
Cell: (505) 440-6384
HOME ADDRESS (send bugs here)
P. O. Box 1173
Corrales, NM 87048
Animal life is biologically aesthetic: each species presents itself in design, coats, tails, feathers, furs, curls, tusks, horns, hues, sheens, shells, scales, wings, songs, dances. - James Hillman
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