Tag Archives: school grounds

Poison Ivy – Don’t scratch

“Lewis Ziska, one of the lead scientists on the six-year study in a forest at Duke University, found that with increased atmospheric CO2 we get bigger, stronger, leafier poison ivy.” – Mary Woodsen, Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

Just what we needed. Bigger, healthier, more toxic poison ivy.

New leaves on an old vine. Note the root-like structures gripping to the tree trunk.

New leaves on an old vine. Note the root-like structures gripping the tree trunk.

Poison ivy has a wide variety of habits – it’s often a climber with thick, woody vines. The vines are covered with rootlike hairs that help it cling to tree trunks or fences, which is a great way to distinguish it from other vines such as Virginia creeper. You will likely see this form most often on school grounds as it climbs fences, trees, and buildings.

It can also be standalone plants with a groundcover quality to them. And it can present in a shrub-like manner – most commonly seen along woodland edges.

The famous saying, “Leaves of three, let it be” is the one feature common to all growth forms. Those leaves, however, can range from ½” on new plants to over 5 inches long on older plants. They are usually smooth, but they can be toothed and sometimes lobed. Young leaves are usually reddish, older leaves can be a deep green, turning red or yellow in the fall. Shinyness is an option, therefore you can’t count on it to confirm your identification.

It's in there, and a quick inspection could have saved me a lot of itching.

Poison ivy is in there, and a quick inspection could have saved me a lot of itching.

And sometimes, it’s just hidden. As I type this blog, my fingers are pink with calamine lotion and I am trying desperately not to rub them against my pants. After a trying day, I vented my frustration on a neglected mulched area under a tree. I noticed the small poison ivy plants tucked into the other weeds only after I had ripped them out with my bare hands. I washed my hands with soap and water to remove the offending urushiol, the toxic oil that causes the dermatitis. But I wasn’t fast enough. A few days later, here come the blisters.

So, the motivation to check the NYS IPM resources on poison ivy management was strong. Here’s what I found on the School IPM Best Practices website:

Give it a trim. Often

Take a closer look. The leaves of three are less obvious when poison ivy gets bushy.

Poison ivy does not like to be trimmed. Mowing or cutting back young growth will deplete the energy in the roots. Plant stems, aerial vines and underground creeping stems are all capable of producing new nodes and leaves, so continue to monitor and trim. For best results, cut back new growth at the base of the plant.

Using a weed whacker is not recommended without full protective gear as plant material can be kicked back and land on exposed skin. Or in your eyes (shudder).

DO NOT BURN! The oils can be distributed through the smoke. It’s bad enough in between your fingers. You do not want to experience that kind of rash in your lungs.

Spot applications of a nonselective herbicide can be helpful for hard to reach locations or if you are extremely sensitive, but you need to follow the regulations laid out in the Child Safe Playing Fields Act and other state regulations. And remember, plants killed by herbicides will still have urushiol and can cause a rash.

In fact, the longlasting oils are present on all parts of the plant whether the plant is actively growing, dormant, or dead. So…

Wash your equipment!

Once on skin, tools, clothes, boots, and gloves, the oils need to be removed with soap and water. If you mowed poison ivy, urushiol may still be present on the mower blades the next time you remove them to sharpen them. If you used goats (yes, goats have been used to remove poison ivy), it could be in their hair. Take precautions.

And, for goodness sake, give a quick visual check before plunging into handweeding.

One last thought – according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, poison ivy “produces just the kind of fat-rich berries that are essential for sustaining migrating birds during fall and year-round residents in the winter”. So if you have poison ivy in an out-of-the-way area, consider leaving it behind for its wildlife value.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to take another benadryl.

 

 

What we’re pondering

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” –  Benjamin Franklin

We at the New York State IPM Program work to ensure we are up on the latest information that is important to help you protect students and staff from pests. Here are some resources that have recently crossed our desk.

Educating Staff

IPM in any setting is not an one-person job. In schools, without help from staff and students, IPM is nearly impossible. P also stands for people! Janet Hurley Extension Program Specialist III – School IPM from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service discusses The Importance of Educating Staff about Your IPM Program.

Stop School Pests has changed its name to the Pest Defense for Healthy Schools to emphasize its dedication to creating healthy, safe spaces for students and school staff by preventing pest problems such as mice, cockroaches, bed bugs, ants, and lice. The online professional training is targeted for specific school audiences including custodial staff, school nurses, grounds managers, school administrators, maintenance professionals, teachers, food services professionals, and pest management professionals.

 

School Safety

Cornell University turf specialist Frank Rossi talks about how to manage athletic fields to reduce injuries.

This isn’t new, but it’s a must see for all school administrators, athletic, and grounds department staff. Safe sports field management will help to reduce the risk of injuries.

Frank Rossi, Cornell Turfgrass Extension Specialist, describes basic level of care of athletic fields in the video, Duty of Care.

Ticks

With the funding of the Don’t Get Ticked New York campaign, we have been pretty dedicated to (read: obsessed with) keeping up-to date on tick information. Here is some of the latest news.

The Public Tick IPM Working Group has created a document, Tick Management Options, showing some of the most effective control strategies. A number of these options would require an emergency exemption and application by a certified pesticide applicator.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati looked into the behavior of hungry ticks. The metabolism of ticks that had not fed for more than 36 weeks increased by as much as 100% and remained high for weeks. This has implications for adult ticks that failed to find a host in the fall. They can not only be active when the temperatures are above freezing, but will be more active in searching for a new host during the winter when the public is least likely to be thinking of tick protection. Hungry ticks are also more likely to venture into less desirable habitat – like your athletic fields. Hungry ticks work harder to find you

An Asian longhorned tick showed up in a sample of lone star ticks collected in Rockland County. The one with the short, stubby mouthparts is the longhorned tick.

Asian longhorned ticks are a troublesome new addition to an already difficult issue. First discovered on a farm in New Jersey in August 2017, we now know that they have been in the United States since at least 2010 and has been identified in nine states, including New York. So far they don’t find humans to be a particularly attractive host and tested ticks have had any disease pathogens. Which is great news. But, there is a lot we still don’t know about this tick. A recent webinar Discussions on the Invasive Longhorned Tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis organized by the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases provides a lot of information

 

Need more information on school and childcare IPM? Visit our Schools and Daycare Centers page.

An Update on School IPM

Recently members of the NYS IPM Program met in Albany as part of a joint meeting of the Clean, Green, and Healthy Schools Steering Committee and the Statewide School IPM Committee.

NYS IPM Educator Joellen Lampman demonstrates ‘dragging for ticks’ as a method to determine tick presence on school grounds.

Clean, Green, and Health Schools is coordinated by the NYS Department of Health and helmed by Dr. Michele Herdt. Their purpose is to promote a healthy learning and working environment in our state’s schools, both public and private.

From their page at health.ny.gov:

 

What is a School Environmental Health Program?

School environmental health is the way the physical environment of school buildings and school grounds influence the overall health and safety of occupants. School environments can impact occupant health, absenteeism, employee/student retention and satisfaction, academic performance, and operation costs for the school. Children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to their body weight, than adults, their body systems are still developing, and their behaviors put them at greater risk, such as hand-to-mouth action and playing on the ground.

Unfortunately, gaps in outside doors are a common problem in public buildings and offers easy access to rodents.

The New York State Clean, Green, and Healthy Schools Program is designed to help all school employees, volunteers, students, parents, and guardians contribute to improving their school’s environmental health. The program has been developed by a multi-disciplinary Steering Committee to help schools improve their environmental health through voluntary guidelines. Schools that participate in this program gain the opportunity and knowledge to create schools with better environmental health. The program provides information for all school occupants on policies, best practices, tools, knowledge, and resources in nine main areas:

  1. Indoor Air Quality;
  2. Energy and Resource Conservation;
  3. Integrated Pest Management;
  4. Mold and Moisture;
  5. Chemical and Environmental Hazards;
  6. Cleaning and Maintenance;
  7. Transportation;
  8. Construction/Renovation;
  9. Water Quality.

Last year, they began a free pilot program to create safer and healthier learning and working environments for all students and staff across New York State. We are looking for schools that would like to be a part of this pilot program and improve the environmental health of their school through low or no cost actions.

As of October, 2018 they have ten school buildings involved, and hope to have at least 10% of NY schools enrolled in the program by 2024.

The NYS IPM Program is glad to be part of the efforts.

Later in the morning Vickie A. Smith and David Frank from the NYS Dept. Of Education shared their work with charter schools, engaging the participants in the joint meeting with ideas on how to better reach this growing segment of education in NYS.

While we have sought to find a way to work with non-public schools in NY, charter schools are also another subset with their own particular concerns.  Like many non-publics, some charter schools operate in rented buildings (some are indeed buildings owned by a public school), and therefore it is not always clear who is responsible for environmental issues school staff face. Charter schools have multiple authorities to report to depending on their location: The NYS Board of Regents, SUNY trustees, NY City Department of Education and the Buffalo City School District. Many students in charter schools are ‘at-risk’. 80% are considered economically challenged, or have disabilities or language barriers.

Charter schools are considered public schools and must comply with many of the same rules. Our day of discussion proved there are plenty of opportunities to increase the use of IPM in all schools in NY State.

Best Management Practices website hosted by the Northeast IPM Center

Geese on school grounds has become a growing pest problem as resident geese populations increase.

Staff of the NYS IPM Program finished out the day’s meeting with a look at Don’t Get Ticked NY efforts. This included sharing the Ticks on School Grounds posters.

More information on our work with schools

For more on ticks visit our page Don’t Get Ticked New York.

Download this poster and others on reducing the risk of ticks

The ABCs of Ticks on School and Childcare Grounds

“The more we hear people telling us their tick stories, the more we’re realizing that much of the information that a majority of people “know” about ticks is just wrong enough to leave them at risk.” – Dr. Thomas Mather, TickEncounter Resource Center

Tom Mathers, a personal tick education hero of mine, recently created #JustWrongEnough to cover those areas that people think they know, but puts them at risk. He used “ticks jump out of trees” and “ticks die in the winter” as examples. I have also heard many #JustWrongEnough tick beliefs that put people and kids at risk for tick-borne diseases.

I won’t comment on people who believe they are safe because they have never had a tick on them.

We won’t get into how much time a tick needs to be attached before transmitting disease-causing pathogens (I consider the 15 minutes needed from attachment to transmission of the Powassan virus to deem this argument moot anyway).

And don’t get me started on the correct way to remove a tick. I covered this in my 2016 blog post, It’s tick season. Put away the matches., and have found no evidence to convince me that pointy tweezers are not the superior method.

Let us focus, then, on #JustWrongEnough beliefs that are important to school and childcare grounds.

#JustWrongEnough 1: All ticks carry Lyme disease.

The risk: Individuals, and their doctors, might not know what diseases they might have been exposed to and lead to a misdiagnosis.

Species matter! Different ticks carry different disease-causing pathogens.

Tick-borne disease is very common in the Northeast. In addition to Lyme disease, ticks in the northeast transmit the pathogens that cause Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan Virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and a bacteria related to the agent of Lyme disease called Borrelia miyamotoi. But different ticks carry different disease pathogens.

In addition, not all life stages are equal. Most disease pathogens are ingested by the tick when they feed on an infected host. Adults are usually twice as likely to be carrying pathogens than a nymph because they have fed twice compared to the nymph’s single feeding. But we also know that Borrelia miyamotoi can be transmitted from an infected female to her eggs, so larval blacklegged ticks cannot be discounted as disease vectors.

School nurses can play a crucial role in tick education. This was covered in our guest blog, The Role of School Nurses in Integrated Pest Management for Public Health.

#JustWrongEnough 2: Ticks are found in tall grass.

The risk: Individuals will only think about tick prevention and conducting a tick check when visiting areas with tall grass.

Different tick species prefer different habitats, but that does not mean that you won’t find them in other areas as well.

We can find ticks in tall grass, but we are less likely to find blacklegged ticks. And species matter! The three New York ticks that pose the highest risk to us are the blacklegged tick, American dog tick, and lone star tick. These three ticks prefer different habitat types.

Blacklegged ticks prefer shady, moist areas. Dehydration is their greatest enemy, and so you are most likely to encounter them in the woods. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find them in a lawn or athletic field, especially in areas that receive significant shade. Ground covers, like pachysandra, found right next to buildings, can also provide suitable habitat for these ticks.

On your school grounds, students will likely have little risk of tick exposure in the middle of the playing field, but it’s a different story when they chase a ball into the wood edge.

How can you determine if there are tick risky locations on your school or child care grounds? You can use a simple drag cloth to monitor for ticks, covered in the blog, Ticks: Assessing the risk at schools and child care centers. This is also covered in our infographic, Monitor for Ticks in Your School Yard.

If you find locations with tick activity, you can take steps to restrict students from those areas by placing orange cones or signage. When access can’t be restricted, students and parents should be made aware of how to protect themselves from ticks.

#JustWrongEnough 3: Ticks are a summer problem.

The risk: Individuals will only think about tick prevention and conducting a tick check during hot weather.

American dog ticks and lone star ticks don’t mind the hot weather and can be a summer problem. But just as different species of ticks prefer different habitats, they also have different seasons when they are most active.

For the blacklegged tick, which is responsible for most of the tick-borne diseases in NY, the nymphs are most active in the spring and the adults most active in the fall. It is true that larvae hatch in the summer, and now that we know that they can transmit Borrelia miyamotoi we need to protect ourselves against them as well, but the greatest risk for disease transmission are in the spring and fall.

The different life stages of blacklegged ticks are most active in different seasons, but ticks that did not find a host will continue looking when the weather is favorable.

#JustWrongEnough 4: I can’t prevent ticks from getting on me.

The risk: Individuals are so afraid of ticks that they avoid spending time outside.

Here’s a gratuitous picture from a recent hike to highlight what you could be missing if you let a fear of ticks keep you inside.

We often find we are walking a fine line between frightening people and encouraging them to take precautions. Our underlying message is you can go outside. There are proven methods that can be used to protect ourselves from tick bites and the pathogens that may be transmitted while the tick is feeding.

Dressing the part, using repellents correctly, conducting daily tick checks, and knowing how to properly remove a tick can help you return from your next outing tick free. Details on these steps can be found on our How Do I Protect Myself From Ticks? page of our Don’t Get Ticked NY website.

So let them play outside during recess. Take your students outdoors. And schedule that field trip.

What questions do you have about ticks on school and child care grounds? You can reach me via email at jkz6 @ cornell.edu.

 

Slime Mold – Pest or Not?

“A word is worth a thousand pictures, if it is the right word. Risk is the right word.” – Michael Hoff, PhD

When a problem presents itself, the first step should often be to determine whether it really is a problem. In other words, does it create a risk? At times, something may look scary, but may actually be eating other insects that are pests (house centipedes are a great example of this). Slime mold, a fungus-like organism, showing up in a school playground recently brought up the question of risk and how to react to it.

No one wants to walk out of their building and see this. Photo: Doug Beckers flickr

From the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic fact sheet:  “Slime molds are frequently observed when they form large colonies on mulch around trees or shrubs. They may initially appear as a slimy mound or mass, come in a variety of colors, and are often unsightly.”

Unsightly indeed. It is often called dog vomit mold.

So a school was very concerned when it started popping up throughout the playground mulch. They began making phone calls which led to us. We were able to reassure them that slime mold feeds only on bacteria in the mulch and there are no known health risks associated with them.

Slime mold crusts over after it finishes with its mobile stage. Still unattractive.

Human health risk usually reaches the highest tier of concern for risk assessment. Given the low risk, the school could just wait it out until the weather changes. Slime mold thrives under hot and humid conditions. Cool, dry weather would take care of the issue. It’s a good reminder that many pests (or, in this case, non-pests) are weather related and checking the forecast can help us determine how long the issue might last.

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves. – Marcel Proust

It’s worth noting that there are no pesticides registered in New York to manage slime mold on mulch. Any use of a pesticide would not only be illegal, but would also cause its own unnecessary risk.

There is another concern that falls lower down on the list, but is still important – perception of risk. In this case, there was a concern about how parents of young children would react to the unsightly mounds. To address this concern, we recommended shoveling out the visible slime mold and hosing down the area to disperse residual materials. And reminded them that as long as the weather remained hot and humid, slime mold would continue to pop up, so keep the shovel at hand.

A unrealistic perception of risk can also be addressed through education. So we found this nifty video about these fascinating organisms and how they move. Check out this Deep Look video from PBS. Talk about a teachable moment!

Have a question on managing pests in your school or childcare facility? Visit our Schools and Daycare Centers webpage.