SCHOOL ACTION PLANS
Because fire ants are dangerous to people and animals, they should not be tolerated on school grounds. The following considerations are important in creating a fire ant management plan for your school.
NOTE: Currently, there is no uniform treatment plan for school fire ant management in all states. Instead, it’s up to each school or district to determine a customized pest control strategy based on state regulations, level of infestation and risk tolerance. In all cases, school administrators should look to integrated pest management (IPM) principles—or to pest or turf professionals who follow these principles—when fighting fire ants.
When creating a plan, consider:
1. Type of application. Choose between mound treatments, broadcast treatments, perimeter treatments, or a combination approach. Because many schools have zero tolerance for fire ants, broadcast applications combined with mound treatments of granular insecticides are often the best choice for highly trafficked areas.
Mound treatments are treatments of active, visible mounds with either a liquid, granular or bait product.
Broadcast treatments are the spreading of granular insecticides over large areas of a lawn using a spreader. Broadcast treatments mean more uniform coverage, longer residual, and a greater level of control. They are ideal for “high risk” areas like school lawns, playgrounds and athletic fields.
Perimeter treatments require a broadcast or hand spreader to treat only the ground or turf around a building. This creates a barrier that keeps fire ants out. Usually 5-10 feet from the edge of the building is sufficient.
2. Scope of treatment. Where should you focus your school’s fire ant control dollars? Consider the following areas:
a. Athletic fields
b. School lawns
d. Along sidewalks, patios and parking lots
e. Near outdoor electrical equipment
f. In flower beds and ornamental gardens
g.Vegetable or herb gardens*
*There are only two active ingredients labeled for fire ant control in gardens where food is produced: Spinosad, which is naturally occurring soil dwelling bacterium and therefore considered organic, and the IGR methoprene, a biochemical pesticide available under a variety of brand names.
3. Type of product. Today, the two most popular methods of fire ant treatment are baits and broadcast granular insecticides.
Granular insecticides - A popular choice for fire ant control on school grounds is spreadable granular insecticides, which are easy to apply, cost effective and provide control for a long period of time.
Baits - Fire ant baits consist of insecticides on processed corn grits or corncob coated with soybean oil or another food-based attractant. Not all baits are created equal, since some fire ants are attracted to one bait versus another. Worker ants are attracted to the bait and bring it back to the nest, where it is shared with the queen, who dies or becomes infertile. Baits are slow-acting and require weeks to months to achieve control, but they are low cost. Baits are usually used to treat active mounds, but can also be spread over large areas. There is no residual associated with baits — they must be picked up by foraging ants within a few days or they dry up and lose their attractive properties.
Physical or natural treatments – Spinosad, a naturally occurring soil dwelling bacterium and B. bassianna, a product containing fungal spores, are currently marketed as all-natural fire ant control. Other organisms such as parasitic fungi (Beuvaria bassiana) and insects (phorid flies, Strepsiptera, parasitic ants) are being evaluated for future use.
As for physical treatments, mounds can be removed with a shovel and regular mowing also helps reduce fire ant populations. Boiling water poured directly on mounds will eliminate abut 60 percent of the mounds treated this way. Other "homemade" methods like herbs, baking soda, gas, grits or dry ice are not recommended and/or potentially dangerous.
4. Label restrictions. Pesticide labels indicate what pests each product controls, where it can be applied, and who can apply it. Pay attention to whether the product is listed as RESTRICTED USE or NON/NOT RESTRICTED USE. Recent regulations with certain products have changed. Labels are available on each manufacturer’s web site.
5. State or local pest control regulations. Most, but not all, states have regulations for what schools apply and how, and when/if parents should be notified, etc. Usually these regulations ensure that schools follow Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, and can include:
a. Adherence to a pest control policy set by the district, county or state.
b. Approval of product use by a designated IPM coordinator.
c. Application of product by licensed pest control operators only.
d. Use of pesticides from an approved list or approved categories determined by state regulation on school grounds
e. Adherence to designated reentry restrictions, pre-notification and advanced posting.
NOTE: More information on state requirements for IPM practices can be found on the EPA’s web site, and links to each state’s IPM resources can be found on the national extension site.
In addition, Texas AgriLife Extension Service's site dedicated to school IPM has an excellent IPM Coordinator Manual for purchase.
6. Reentry restrictions. In general, fire ant products should be applied when students are not on-site or expected for at least 12 hours. Certain products are exempted from this requirement and may be applied during the school day if students are kept at least 10 feet from the area. Check your state’s IPM policy for more information. Many states also require pre-notification and advance posting; check your state’s IPM regulations for details.
NOTE: Pest control strategies are based on a variety of factors specific to each school. Some excellent guidelines and decision-making models are available from your local university and extension offices. For example, Texas A&M University, one of the leading fire ant research facilities, created an excellent web site for schools in Texas. A compilation of information from across the Fire Ant 13 is also available.