St. Mary’s Tries Integrated Pest Management

The bird house that was built outside the campus center to attract insect-eating Purple Martins. (Photo by Matt Molek)

This year, the College is setting up bird and bat houses in the hopes that their future denizens will cut down on the pest population.

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program was brought to the college by Supervisor of Grounds Kevin Mercer after he heard about a similar program at the University of Maryland.  The program seeks to reduce the number of pests on campus in an environmentally friendly way.

Bird and bat houses were set up at two locations on campus, the most visible house being near St. John’s pond.  Carl Dyson, a certified arborist, helped with the installation of the bat houses.

“The birdhouses are going to hold Purple Martins, which are migratory birds, and combined with the bats, the population of insects should be cut down, especially mosquitoes,” said first-year Travis Lear.  Along with the Purple Martins, the college is hoping to attract Hoary and Little Brown bats.

Although the Purple Martins will likely establish themselves with in a year or two, it takes several years to attract bats to a new location.  The placement of the bat houses near the water (a ready mosquito source) is intended to help facilitate their switch to a new home.

The IPM is not a one-time program.  “The program is looking for people to help maintain the birdhouses (not really the bat houses as they are about forty feet up a tree) by cleaning them out after migration of the Purple Martins, and ‘winterizing’ the houses by sealing them, preventing other species from nesting there,” said Lear.

“Down the road, I’m going to be installing bluebird houses in our meadow,” said Mercer.  The school is also planning to install light traps for insects.

Although the IPM program intends to reduce the number of insects, it will not eliminate them completely.

“This is a program that’s going to help work with the sustainability to help biologically control the pests,” said Mercer. “First and foremost, this is not a plan to have zero pesticides.”  The school will always need them, he said, but environmentally friendly varieties can be used instead.

Already, “we don’t put any insecticides down on our grass,” he said.  For now, those involved with the IPM program will make sure that the birds and bats establish themselves in the houses.

“I hate disturbing the environment,” said Mercer, “so I hope the bat houses are in [the right] location.”

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