Managing national park resources involves the daily challenge of careful pest detection and prevention.
Pests are continually present; forest pests such as gypsy moth and mountain pine beetle devastate critical ecosystems which support countless other organisms. The museum beetle, no bigger than a letter in this sentence, could quietly consume Abe Lincoln’s woolen coat or feathers from a Native American head dress for the protein meal they provide. Diligent pest detection and management is critical in protecting our national treasures and human health from pests and their damage.
The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program protects national park resources from detrimental pests such as these, while also reducing risks to people and the environment from pests and pest-related management strategies.
Learn more about the NPS IPM program below.
What is IPM and why do national park resource managers use it?
IPM is a science-based decision-making process that has guided park managers when investigating a pest situation since 1980. The IPM approach determines the most appropriate and cost effective management solution for the specific pest situation. IPM includes identification of the pest, understanding the use and significance of a site or the importance of protecting a historic item, and education of the people involved.
IPM also establishes pest tolerance levels and monitoring protocols. Then, with the help of technical experts and on a case-by-case basis, we develop an effective, site specific and low risk strategy to manage the pest. This includes altering conditions which attracted pests to the site in the first place. IPM often involves changing human behavior as well.
Simply put, the NPS uses IPM because it works! The NPS also use the IPM approach because it is directed to do so by the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, acessible here, and NPS policy. The NPS focuses on finding solutions to pest problems and determine why the pest is there in the first place, rather than simply treating the damage and symptoms caused by the pest.
What is a pest?
A 'pest', as defined by NPS policy, is any organism that interferes with the purpose of a park or that threatens human health or safety. A pest can be a native or non-native organism; it can be a weed, an insect, a fungus, a disease, a fish, a bird, or a mammal - to reach "pest status” depends on the situation. An individual mouse, such as the native deer mouse for example, is a pest when inside the Yosemite National Park Museum. Mice may damage museum items by gnawing on them or using them for nesting material. But outside the museum the same individual deer mouse is part of the natural ecosystem and is not considered a pest.
How is IPM implemented in the NPS?
IPM follows an “11 Step Process to Developing and Implementing an Integrated Pest Management Strategy”. You might find it valuable, too! What is good for national parks can also be good in your home and community. For more information, also see National IPM Center, here.
The NPS uses the following 11-step process to develop and implement an effective IPM strategy:
- Describe your site management objectives and establish short and long term priorities.
- Build consensus with stakeholders-occupants, decision makers and technical experts (ongoing).
- Document decisions and maintain records.
- Know your resource (site description and ecology).
- Know your pest. Identify potential pest species, understand their biology, and conditions conducive to support the pest(s) (air, water, food, shelter, temperature, and light).
- Monitor pests, pathways, and human and environmental factors, including population levels and phenological data.
- Establish "action thresholds," the point at which no additional damage or pest presence can be tolerated.
- Review available tools and best management practices. Develop a management strategy specific to your site and the identified pest(s). Tools can include: 1) no action, 2) physical, 3) mechanical, 4) cultural, 5) biological, and 6) chemical management strategies.
- Define responsibilities and implement the lowest risk, most effective pest management strategy, in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies.
- Evaluate results; determine if objectives have been achieved; modify strategy if necessary (adaptive management).
- Education and outreach. Continue the learning cycle, return to Step 1.
Questions to Consider
Some important questions to consider while determining an effective IPM strategy include the following:
- Is it a pest? (Is it interfering with your management objectives?)
- Is it a native or non-native organism?
- What conditions foster the pest?
- What management zone is it in?
- What are the chances of successful management?
What are examples of integrated pest management tools?
An example of a mechanical tool is the use of snap traps for indoor mice problems in conjunction with regular structural inspections to determine how mice are entering the structure. Then, the rodent is excluded by permanently closing points of entry. More information can be found in the Rodent Exclusion Manual.
Cultural IPM tools include planting disease resistant wheat to avoid the need for regular pesticide application. The use of biological tools, such as Gypchek-a virus specific for gypsy moth-to manage this forest pest without affecting other non-target species, butterflies, and moths. Rather than repeatedly hand pulling deep-rooted perennial weeds and their re-sprouts, the NPS may use chemical tools such as systemic herbicides that kill the entire plant, even the roots. Whereas, hand pulling annual weeds before they go to seed is an equally effective physical tool.
A great example of IPM is the well-established strategy for controlling purple loosestrife. This nonnative invasive, wetland weed destroys wildlife habitat by taking over all available growing space. Through early detection and rapid response efforts, national parks manage this pest with park neighbors and others who share the waterways. Depending on the site and location, herbicides can be used to eliminate outlying patches of purple loosestrife. For dense stands of this weed, the release of a tiny biological control agent, a beetle, who eats and eventually destroys the plants. Removing purple loosestrife from wetlands allows native plants and critical wildlife habitat to return.
Last updated: April 8, 2019