SMMUSD Adopts New Anti Bug Policy
Board of Ed adopts a stronger policy on the use of pesticides
After receiving some backlash for the way it handled the gopher crisis at Malibu High School, the SMMUSD board has adopted a stronger policy on the use of pesticides, banning the use of anticoagulants outright.
The new statement makes it very difficult for the board to resort to poisons until greener methods of eradication are attempted. According to SMMUSD board member Craig Foster, this is a tremendous step in the right direction for the district.
"The statement Carrie Upton and Janice Maez drafted is very strong," Foster said. "This is great news."
This September, over 20 gopher trails were discovered on the Malibu soccer fields, and the Board responded by sending its pest control company to dispose of them. According to board member Richard Tahvildaran Jesswein, most people weren't as angry at the use of the poisons themselves as they were at the fact that the poisons were the first method that was attempted.
"It's supposed to be that you do the humane thing first," Jesswein said. "You know, all the trapping and the non-poisons and no pesticides - and it's supposed to be that you only use the poisons if nothing else works."
The district's go-to pest company used anticoagulants that ended up killing roughly half the gopher population. At the Oct. 15 meeting, the board opened the question of whether the policy should change, and was divided four to three on what to do moving forward.
"It's easy to say let's throw down the poisons and be done with it, but the truth is poisons aren't 100 percent effective either," Foster said. "We used them in Malibu and still half the gophers were there when the smoke cleared."
Another concern about the use of poisons to deal with animals is secondary kills; many worry that bringing poisons into the ecosystem could affect other species for generations.
"We had an issue with secondary kills a while ago," Jesswein said. "A mountain lion was killed by--not specifically ours--but a number of anticoagulants around the time of the gophers."
Last November, there was a flea infestation at Roosevelt Elementary School and the board attempted to use non-toxic methods to get rid of them. According to school board Vice President Ralph Mechur, the board did everything it could to implement green pest management strategies.
"After a couple of weekends of trying to address the issue with nontoxic methods unsuccessfully there was no choice really," Mechur said. "In order to get rid of the fleas and keep the classrooms open we used the toxins."
With so many situations like this one, where green methods prove ineffective, opponents of an entirely poison free district claim that limiting their options in this way is unrealistic.
"We want to leave the flexibility," Mechur said. "Once in a blue moon, when warranted, we want to have the option of using toxins-based pesticides again."
Proponents of banning poisons altogether feel that keeping a policy of "last resort" can very easily be sidestepped by officials who don't want the trouble of trapping.
'It's almost always possible to solve these problems without poison," Jesswein said. "We're forcing people to be creative. We want to make it difficult for people to say 'let's just get the poisons.'"
One concern that seems to be shared by all board members is that the district's go-to pest management company does not seem to be overly concerned with green methods of disposal.
"Our current pest management company does not have an entirely green mindset," Mechur said. "We are planning on looking for a new management company."
In the meantime, preventative measures will be taken and facilities will be secured. This is something everyone can help with; many of the pest problems arise from trash containers that aren't sealed properly and food left out after lunch.
"If students stop leaving half-eaten sandwiches out, it won't matter what the pest management policy is because pests won't be attracted in the first place," Foster said.
The new policy received a unanimous vote and while the issue will continue to be discussed, this agreement will likely hold for at least a few years. It is the result of months and months of discussion and everyone is content to have reached this deal.
"This policy will probably stick for a while," Mechur said. "It's a good compromise and I think we're all in agreement that for the time being, it's progress at the very least."