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NYS IPM 2004
Excellence-in-IPM Award Winners:
Curtis Wegener

A hand-held steamer—purchased at a drug store—forced cockroaches out of hiding, replacing expensive foggers and cases of pesticides. A concrete pad drove rats from top-pest status to a distant fifth, behind mice, skunks, raccoons, and squirrels, while saving box-loads of toxic baits.

For these and similar innovations, Curtis Wegener, maintenance supervisor for the Yonkers, New York, Municipal Housing Authority, has received a 2005 "Excellence in IPM Award" from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program.

Wegener recently marked 26 years with the 2,600-unit Municipal Housing Authority. "The person before me used one sprayer and three chemicals. At first, so did I," says Wegener. "But the Authority permitted me to order books and attend pest seminars. The more I learned, the more I wanted to change the way things were done."

How to apply pesticides safely was an important part of the training. "It occurred to me that after I applied a pesticide in someone's kitchen, I got to leave the treated area," Wegener says. "But the people who lived there, they didn't." Wegener began to work on reducing pesticide use.

An early innovation was simply watching—seeing if so-called monthly calendar sprays really mattered. "I found that if tenants were clean, they didn't get pests, and I didn't need to spray. I added a new code—'no treatment needed'—to the paperwork."

The steamer came in about seven years ago. "I was standing there in the drug store looking at the machine—the thing was designed to clean barbecue grills—and I thought, 'I wonder if this would work for cockroaches," Wegener recalls.

Now Wegener's technicians routinely use steamers to flush cockroaches out of cracks and special "HEPA-filter" vacuums, with allergen-trapping filters, to vacuum them up. The steamers also help degrease garbage compactors (cockroaches love grease and filth) while the vacuums can also reverse the airflow to, as Wegener says, "flush out cockroaches without pesticides."

"Pesticides are expensive, and roaches can become resistant to pesticides," Wegener says. "The vacuums help reduce our staffs' and residents' exposure to pesticides. And roaches can't develop resistance to a vacuum cleaner."

Wegener's five pest control technicians are the only ones among his staff of 90 to be trained and licensed in pest-management tactics. But since prevention is key to dealing with cockroaches, rats, and other pests—and timely upkeep and repairs, along with good sanitation, are key to prevention—his maintenance staff are key to a better integration of prevention and low-toxic control.

"I enjoy talking to the maintenance crews about pest control," says Wegener. "I communicate with them about my IPM beliefs, and explain how what they do is part of the IPM process."

Maintenance crews go through about 14,400 feet of copper mesh and 100 canisters of polyurethane foam a year to fill the cracks that mice, ants, and cockroaches use as entryways. They replace leaky pipes that otherwise provide pests with life-sustaining water. Even simple door sweeps can go a long way to excluding mice and cockroaches.

Wegener is also a member of the all-volunteer Westchester County Pest Management Committee. "Curtis's knowledge has been a huge asset in helping county departments reduce their use of conventional pesticides, which helps them comply with Westchester's pesticide reduction law," says Rick Harper, an educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester County. "He always brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, but perhaps more importantly, passion and enthusiasm to whatever he does."

Wegener receives his award on Sunday, September 18, at Westchester County's new Hilltop Hanover Environmental Farm in Yorktown, New York, at a reception and fundraiser hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester County. The NYS IPM Program researches, tests, and promotes safer combinations of pest-control tactics, whether at home, work, or on the farm.