The Snake in the Garden

May 1, 2008
 IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices

Eddie manages a 1 million-square-foot facility that houses almost 4,000 workers. He called this week about a 6-foot snake that had taken residence in the garden at the main building’s front entrance. The snake enjoys sunning near the park benches, where the employees sit to have lunch and enjoy the beautiful, native landscape and pond. Even though the snake isn’t poisonous, he was still causing some near heart attacks. As we are taking the project through LEED® certification, Eddie called to ask, “What is the green thing to do about the snake?”

In the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EB O&M) rating system, the Sustainable Sites Credit 3 (SSCR3) calls for exterior Integrated Pest Management, among other things. The credit is worth 1 point, and its intent is to preserve ecological integrity, enhance natural diversity, and protect wildlife while supporting high-performance building operations and integration into the surrounding landscape.

So, what is Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and how is this green pest management different than traditional pest management? IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life-cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest-control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

Effective IPM will include:

  • Preferred use of non-chemical methods.
  • Using least-toxic chemical pesticides.
  • Minimum use of chemicals.
  • Use only in targeted locations (vs. broad applications).
  • Use only for targeted species (vs. general applications).
  • Use of less-polluting alternatives to artificial chemicals.
  • Inspection and monitoring.
  • Defining emergency conditions under which a pesticide other than a least-toxic pesticide can be applied. If a pesticide other than least toxic is to be applied, it must include universal notification of between 24 hours and 72 hours, depending upon the emergency.

Some pesticides are, by nature, less risky. For example, many biological pesticides derived from natural materials (animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals) pose a lower risk. Canola oil and baking soda have pesticide applications and are considered biopesticides. Other plant-derived pesticides (such as nicotine), however, can be quite toxic. Biopesticides include naturally occurring substances that control pests (biochemical pesticides), micro-organisms that control pests (microbial pesticides), and pesticidal substances produced by plants containing added genetic material plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs).

An Integrated Pest Management plan (vs. a traditional pest management plan) calls for the most effective, lowest-risk, least-toxic pesticide. This will vary according to target species. Some examples are outlined in Table 1 (below).

Effective IPM will use services rather than materials to address pest species. For example, consider hand weeding, adding ladybugs, or pruning to reduce the introduction of pest species, instead of using chemicals to eliminate them. If the management plan uses plants and beneficial organisms effectively, pesticide services can be provided, for free, by nature.

The snake mentioned earlier is, no doubt, free from nature and acting as a pesticide. Removing the snake will create an opening in the garden’s ecosystem. Something will fill that opening, and it may be more or less desirable than the current snake. The garden snake, however, is being relocated to the retention pond by popular vote.

For more information on IPM, visit:

Table 1: List of Least-Toxic Options for IPM.

Cannot Include
  • Pesticide that is determined by the U.S. EPA as a probable, likely, or known carcinogen or endocrine disruptor.
  • Mutagens.
  • Reproductive toxins.
  • Developmental neurotoxins.
  • Immune-system toxins.
  • Pesticides classified by the EPA as having a toxicity I or II.
  • Organophosphates.
  • Carbonate chemicals.
  • Inert ingredients categorized as “List I: Inerts of Toxicological Concern.”
  • Application by using a broadcast spray, dust, tenting, fogging, or baseboard spray application.

Can Include

  • Boric acid.
  • Disodium octaborate tetrahydrate.
  • Silica gens.
  • Diatomaceous earth.
  • Non-volatile insect and rodent baits in tamper-resistant containers.
  • Non-volatile insect and rodent baits for crack and crevice treatment only.
  • Microbe-based insecticides.
  • Pesticides made with essential oils (not including synthetic pyrethroids) without toxic synergies.
  • Materials in which the inert ingredients are nontoxic and disclosed.


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