Thursday, April 30, 2009

Understanding School IPM 2015

In late 2008 the IPM Institute of North America, a private institution dedicated to promotion of integrated pest management, and the University of Arizona, announced publication of a new national pest management strategic plan for IPM in public schools. Called School IPM 2015, this plan has generated both a lot of interest and some controversy over the past few months.

On the surface, School IPM 2015 is merely the latest in a long stream of relatively obscure documents called “pest management strategic plans” (PMSPs) submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.These plans are designed for use by the USDA and EPA to identify research, education and regulatory priorities for IPM projects. They are frequently referenced by agencies, like Texas AgriLife Extension, when applying for federal grant funds. The PMSP can help justify the need for IPM projects, and provide evidence for stakeholder support of specific research and extension efforts.

Usually PMSPs mostly gather dust and generate little public interest outside a small cadre of researchers and decision makers. However, School IPM 2015 is catching the attention of a larger, more diverse audience. For one thing, at 286 pages it is the largest, most ambitious PMSP ever developed. Also perhaps, for most Americans the target of the plan, our school children, is of much greater concern and hits much closer to home than, say, a national strategic plan for pest management of broccoli.

The title of the plan refers to its stated goal to develop a plan of action that will “achieve full implementation of IPM in all [U.S.] schools by 2015.” Why such an ambitious goal? According to the document, pest management practices in schools are sorely in need of improvement, with over 50 studies documenting deficiencies, including poorly managed pest infestations and unsafe, illegal or unnecessary pesticides use.

Federal agencies, such as EPA, USDA and Centers for Disease Control have recommended IPM use in public schools for years. Currently 33 states have some IPM requirements for schools, with several states moving toward adopting regulations affecting pesticide use in schools. Nevertheless, most experts agree that the vast majority of schools in the U.S. are a long way from full adoption of IPM.

One of the most important aspects of a successful PMSP is that it must accurately represent the views and priorities of key stakeholders. For School IPM 2015 a core group of approximately 23 extension educators, consultants, environmentalists, pest management professionals, industry representatives and government officials were involved in developing the plan. Nevertheless, in recent weeks, some key stakeholders are crying “foul!”, saying their interests were not represented on the panel.

The National Pest Management Association is the largest trade association for pest management professionals in the U.S. The NPMA recently complained that they were not invited to review the plan before its release. More recently, RISE (Responsible Industry for a Safe Environment), a lobby group that represents pesticide industry, has raised concerns about the plan’s fairness, claiming that it reflects an anti-pesticide bias.

The IPM Institute and other plan drafters are heading back to the drawing board next week to join RISE, NPMA and others to see how the plan can be modified to more accurately reflect all stakeholder views. At stake will be whether the EPA, which has yet to approve the plan, and USDA agree that it lays out a sound approach to the challenge of how to best implement IPM in all the nation’s schools, and that it accurately summarizes key school IPM stakeholder views.

In addition to the issue of bias, questions about whether the 2015 goal is attainable and how to know when full implementation of IPM has been reached, will certainly be a source of lively debate. Indeed even Texas, with its comprehensive school IPM regulations and dedicated regulatory and Extension team, has been working for 14 years to persuade schools to understand and adopt IPM procedures. Few of us would say we have yet reached full implementation. In light of the Texas experience alone, six years seems an awfully short time to attain full IPM implementation nationwide. In my opinion, setting a later, say 2025, date would be both challenging and attainable.

Regardless of the obstacles, one thing that all parties seem to agree on is that national adoption of IPM is a worthy goal. We should all be glad that School IPM 2015 has gotten us talking how we will get there.

Note: The full School IPM 2015 document can be a daunting read at its full 286 pages. You can download an executive summary or the full plan at:

No comments: