Hello and What is This About?

Hello, I’m Norm Smith. I’m a pest control guy who has been invited to have a dialog with LIAF’ers about “pests” and all that word encompasses. It actually started out about “bugs” but really there is so much more to this subject since “bugs” are only a fraction of what constitutes the world of “pest”. I’ve spent 40+ years in the pest control industry and I feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of my profession. This being sunny Florida, we are host to a constant supply of home-grown pests and invaders of all stripes—good and evil, so the world of pests is constantly expanding. Techniques for pest control change, chemicals change, legislation and public perceptions about pests change, equipment, etc., etc. Sometimes some of these factors change very quickly. What I knew about pest control in 1972 is definitely not what I know today. Much of 1972 knowledge was just plain wrong in light of what we have learned since then. The key to enlightenment in the green industry today, in light of our ever-increasing pool of knowledge is to know whom to ask. As an ex-pest control association jock, I certainly know that part.

I mentioned dialog. That is what this column will be about. I’ll talk about what may be germane to you all, pest control-wise BUT, if there is something that you want to know or are curious about, speak up. For now, let me start with the most basic concept:

WHAT is a Pest?

Lets get on some common ground. “Pest” control is a highly regulated industry in the US. The Fed’s set up the basics with the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act many years ago. The states took it up from there. In Florida, there are two statutes that regulate pest control in the structural and landscape areas. Let me be clear, since I am talking to an enforcement bunch, you cannot apply a pesticide for compensation in Florida without a license (29 different ones and counting), period. Two of the few exceptions would be a homeowner, of course, and a yardman hired by the homeowner, using pesticides supplied by that owner. I’m ignoring mosquito control today, that is a public health issue and is regulated separately. We can dicuss that whole deal at some other tome if you wish. The two statutes governing pesticide applicators are Chapter 482, The Structural Pest Control Act or Chapter 487 Part 1, The Florida Pesticide Law. These two statutes can be confusing, this is government remember. Simply put, Ch 482 involves structures, think home and yard and Ch 487, is outdoors, think golf course or parks/sport fields, etc.

Both Ch. 482 and Ch. 487 define a “Pest” as:
482.021(21) “Pest” means an arthropod, wood-destroying organism, rodent, or other obnoxious or undesirable living plant or animal organism.

487.021(48) “Pest” means:(a) Any insect, rodent, nematode, fungus, weed; or(b) Any other form of terrestrial or aquatic plant or animal life or virus, bacteria, or other microorganism, except viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms on or in living humans or other living animals, which is declared to be a pest by the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency or which may be declared to be a pest by the department by rule.

Okay, this is what the law we have to work with in Florida says. The EPA, FIFRA (the Feds’), and legions of experts have their own definitions, naturally. This any help? No?

“Pest” means something different to many different people. Let me help to clarify what it means to a pest control guy (me) and this column.

Here is a simple definition that has worked for me all these years and what I teach; “A Pest is something that is out of place”. Let me explain by example. A big, fat ‘Gator in the Everglades Vs one in a Condominiums’ ornamental pond, where’s the pest? The pond, natch. Hopefully, in the ‘Glades, they’ll eat those imported Boa Constrictors faster than the Boas; eat them! How about a bug feeding on City Halls’ nice lush lawn Vs wild grass out in the boonies? Or Dollarweed in a city sports park turf (that’s overwatered) Vs some swampy sand sprit up a river? Get it?

Pests didn’t just show up to bother us, they were always here. Then some were imported from someplace else where they always were. If the imports don’t perish, it simply means they found a nice home and then the trouble really begins. Why trouble? Because there may not be any competitors and/or predators to keep them in check. The local critters are now at a disadvantage or, in some cases, the imports combine with the locals to cause real havoc.

Think of the whitefly epidemic. It’s a little like the TV show, Girls Gone Wild. We always had whiteflies, but then some more species were graciously imported (thank you Miami International Airport. the Port and friends). I believe the count is now three species all told currently giving us fits, one local and two imports. That’s why we have Dr Mannion and her great crew of stalwarts to tell us. We just need to listen.

These are just the whitefly species threatening our ornamentals. Believe me, there are a lot more types of whitefly, they just haven’t graduated to “pest” status in our frame of

What about something benign to all of us. Take our lovely, cuddly St Augustine turfgrass that we coddle into beautiful expanses of lawn—a pest? St Augustine is a vigorous,
aggressive living thing. If it invades someone’s cherished Bahiagrass lawn (yes, there are places in Florida Bahia is used as a lawngrass). In very short order, that person will have a St Augustine lawn! Bahia just can’t compete. Ditto Bermuda in St Augustine.

Basically, things become pests, they weren’t created solely for that purpose. We must
recognize that as landscape inspectors, landscapers, nursery people, architects; all of us involved in the urban green industry (and we all are), we are dealing with an artificial landscape environment. My respects to the well founded concepts of “Right Plant, Right Place”, Xeriscape and “Native Plantings”, most of us live, work and play in an artificial landscape. In the wild areas of Florida, you simply do not find settings such as we have installed by Dewey, Plantem & Howe Landscapers.

That artificiality we create to serve or needs in landscaping is what creates pest problems in our urban environment. We group nice lush, juicy plants (and homes) together and what happens? Things move in. There is an old saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum” and it is abundantly true. For you science types, see Nitch Theory. For you sales types, build a
%!**&! and they will come. For something eaking out a living in the bush, a nice
landscape is a bonanza and with no competition (at first) – heaven. Think of the termite. Out in the boondocks they break down dead wood –nature at its best. Then we presented them with a nice juicy building—ecstasy! By the way, when I first came to pest control, there were about six species of termite in Florida. The count is twenty-two now.

A footnote here. Not all things turn into pests. Remember lethal yellowing? Our native palms took a big hit. The imports helped fill the gaps (Norfolk Pines—no comment).

Why am I going through all this? Because this is the most basic building block of pest
control. Understanding the nature of a pest is the single most important thing in
maintaining a healthy, urban setting. Once a pest is known, only then can you go on to learn how that pest functions and to deal with it. That, in a nutshell, is what we call IPM
or Integrated Pest Management.

Why the heck does a landscape inspector need to know about pests and IPM? A lot. In our urban setting there needs to be uniformity of some kind, an order so to speak. People pretty much like that. Those that don’t, move to the boonies and become hermits,
survivalists or somebody from Alaska. Recognizing a problem in a landscape is important, We don’t want ugly, broken-down landscapes do we? Good IPM can be as simple as recognizing a problem and calling in the right person to fix it.

I’ve often referred to pests as “things” instead of “organisms” as the statutes define them. I’ll leave you with this to think about. With all the current furor over nitrogen and phosphate and wetland contamination and fertilizers’ role in this, is fertilizer becoming a pest?

Norm Smith joined the pest control industry in 1972. A graduate of FAU with a Bachelor of Science degree, he is a Certified Operator in all four categories of pest control, a DACS Continuing Education provider and a FDEP GIBMP instructor. He has been a Trainer, Technical Director and Manager in both large and small pest control companies. Norm served over twelve years as Assistant VP and Executive VP of the Certified Pest Control Operators Association before retiring. While at CPCO, he Co-chaired the committee that produced the original GIBMP manual in 2002. He currently conducts continuing education programs for Certified Operators, Technician training, GIBMP education and serves on the Steering Committee for the Bread County IFAS/ Agricultural Extension. He can be reached at