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Going green: Preschool tries nontoxic pest control

Belinda Messenger, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, and her twin 3-year-old daughters Charlotte, left, and Margaret, inspect an insect trap that had caught six oriental cockroaches during a pest inspection Thursday at Peregrine Early Childhood Education Center. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | October 26, 2012 |

When the directors and staff at Peregrine Early Childhood Center in Davis decided to take a completely green approach to pest management this year, they were fortunate to have in their midst Belinda Messenger.

Messenger’s twin daughters, 3-year-olds Charlotte and Margaret, attend Peregrine. And Messenger herself is an environmental scientist with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, which has developed an integrated pest management program specifically for child care facilities emphasizing non-chemical pest management.

The program’s goal is to control insects, rodents and other pests while minimizing risk to human health and the environment, and in a way that’s simple enough for facility staff to do themselves.

The idea is pretty basic: Prevent the pests from getting in in the first place, because if they don’t get in, you won’t have to eradicate them.

On Thursday, Messenger was part of a team from the department that toured Peregrine’s facility in West Davis. With a tool kit and checklist in hand, the team walked the school’s administrative director, Carrie Fisher-Stone, through the process of figuring out where the pests come from and how to stop them.

Last week, Messenger had placed small sticky strips under shelving in the school bathroom, where staff had reported seeing the occasional cockroach. On Thursday, she pulled one out, and sure enough, several roaches were caught. Looking around carefully with a telescoping mirror and flashlight, Messenger and fellow environmental scientist Nita Davidson concluded that the oriental cockroaches likely had come through a door from outside — a door just steps away.

Sure enough, Messenger discovered with the door shut, there was still just enough room underneath for everything from roaches to little mice to slip inside. How did she know? If a butter knife can slide under, so can a roach. If a pencil can, so can a mouse.

The fix?

“Put a door sweep there and it will keep everything out,” she said.

Pest control gets a bit tougher outside, especially at Peregrine, with its many gardens and trees.

“It’s easy if you have a concrete playground,” Messenger noted, “but harder here.”

Peregrine’s academic director, Lorie Hammond, said the school has always been very green, with organic gardens and composting being a big part of the curriculum.

“And a big part of the message to kids is to live well in the environment,” she said. “We can’t make it so sterile there are no ants.”

But there are little things they can do about other pests.

With composting, of course, often comes rats. What’s critical, Messenger said, is ensuring that the bottom and sides of the compost bins are impenetrable.

Putting owl boxes up is another effective remedy, she said.

But if neighbors are using poison — as it appeared the apartment complex next door to Peregrine was — the owls could end up dead, too.

One of the big challenges in pest control, she noted, is that it’s tough when the people around you are using a different approach.

And while it’s difficult to eradicate rodents from outdoor areas, they can at least be kept outside by thoroughly checking the exterior of the building and especially the roof to ensure there are no tiny openings through which roof rats can squeeze.

Another fairly common pest in Davis — and of particular concern at schools and day cares — are black widow spiders.

The solution?

“Squish them,” Messenger said.

“Be vigilant. Check under tables and in play houses,” she said. “Clean out the cobwebs.”

If you see a black widow, carefully knock it down with a rolled-up newspaper or something similar and step on it.

“They won’t jump on you,” she added.

Up until recently, Fisher-Stone said, Peregrine relied on a commercial pest control company to take care of roaches and other pests.

When they decided to go with a more green, non-chemical approach, she wondered if it would be too much extra work for the school’s staff. But after spending a little more than an hour with Messenger and the rest of the DPR staff on Thursday, she said, “I’m hearing, ‘no.’ ”

Thursday’s inspection at Peregrine is the first such inspection the department has conducted and it plans to use the school as a model for the new integrated pest management plan. Other schools can follow Peregrine’s progress and learn more about non-chemical pest control on the department’s website, http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/childcare.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at aternus@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

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