Defining a Strong IPM or EPM Program

Beyond Pesticides supports the implementation of an Ecological Pest Management (EPM) or strongly defined Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program in the indoor environment, and Organic Land Care (OLC) practices in the outdoor environment.

Because the term IPM has been coopted by the chemical industry to mean virtually anything a practitioner wants it to mean, Beyond Pesticides has embraced the phrase “Ecological Pest Management." Ecological Pest Management better represents the focus practitioners need to have –emphasizing the broader ecology of pest management and avoiding toxic chemicals unless there are no alternatives. Some, but certainly not all IPM programs will follow this approach. For both indoor and outdoor pest problems, the principles below can be applied.

I. Definition

II. Six EPM Program Essentials

III. How to Implement an EPM system

IV. What is a "Least-Toxic Pesticide"?

I. EPM (or Strong IPM) Definition

EPM is a managed pest management system that:

(a) eliminates or mitigates economic and health damage caused by pests;

(b) minimizes the use of pesticides and the risk to human health and the environment associated with pesticide applications; and,

(c) uses integrated methods, site or pest inspections, pest population monitoring, an evaluation of the need for pest control, and one or more pest control methods, including sanitation, structural repairs, cultural practices,  habitat manipulation, mechanical and living biological controls, other non-chemical methods, and, if nontoxic options are unreasonable and have been exhausted, a defined set of least toxic pesticides.

II. The Six EPM Program Essentials

  • Prevention. Preventive measures must be incorporated into the existing structures and designs for new structures. Prevention is and should be the primary means of pest management in an EPM program.
  • Identification. Many pests can look alike, but may have different ecologies that necessitate different management methods. It’s important to make sure pest managers correctly identify insects and other problem pests. 
  • Monitoring. This includes regular site inspections and trapping to determine the types and infestation levels of pests at each site.
  • Record-Keeping. A record-keeping system is essential to establish trends and patterns in pest outbreaks. Information recorded at every inspection or treatment should include pest identification, population size, distribution, recommendations for future prevention, and complete information on the treatment action.
  • Action Levels. Pests are virtually never eradicated. An action level is the population size which requires remedial action for human health, economic, or aesthetic reasons.
  • Tactics Criteria. Under EPM, chemicals should be used only as a last resort, after mechanical, cultural, and biological approaches have been attempted and shown ineffective. When chemicals are used, the least-toxic materials should be chosen, and applied to minimize exposure to humans and all non-target organisms.
  • Evaluation. A regular evaluation program is essential to determine the success of the pest management strategies.

III. How to Implement an EPM Program

Decision-making Process. Create an EPM decision-making process that draws on accurate, timely information to make pest prevention and management decisions. Determine the needs of the site and set "action thresholds;" levels of pest populations at which remedial action is necessary. This will vary depending on the site - what type of area it is, who is using it, and how it is being used.

Example (indoor): Cafeterias will need to be more pest-free than an equipment room. This decision should be made with someone knowledgeable about the pest needing control and the risks of pesticides - someone who does not have a financial interest in selling a pesticide product.

Example (outdoor): Heavily trafficked parks or athletic fields often need to be managed to much higher expectations than other public spaces. This may require more intensive land management than other areas.

Monitor. Implement a monitoring program designed to provide accurate, timely information on pest activity - to establish whether there is in fact a pest problem and to identify its causes. Put a schedule into practice and a plan for monitoring pest populations and the success of pest control efforts. This will help determine acceptable pest population levels, effective reduction measures, and breach of the action threshold.

Example (indoor): The best way to monitor for many pests, like cockroaches, is with sticky traps. They should be placed throughout a structure at many different levels. Set the traps for 24 hours, and then record your results. The traps should be used on a regular schedule, such as monthly.

Example (outdoor): Grubs can be problematic for turf fields, but generally do not require intervention when there are fewer than 9 grubs per square feet. Sampling for grubs is best done in early to mid-August.

Pest Prevention Practices. Use practices that eliminate the need for hazardous pesticides - changing the conditions to prevent problems, including occupant education, careful cleaning, pest-proof waste disposal, and structural maintenance. Learn about what the specific pest needing control needs to live - food, water, and habitat. Reduce the sources of food and water.

Example (indoor): Always clean up food and food areas, place food in airtight, sealed containers, dispose of food and food wrappers in sealed garbage containers, repair leaky pipes and faucets, caulk up cracks and crevices, and eliminate clutter whenever possible. Remember that it can take some time for these methods to be effective.

Example (outdoor): Manage lands based on the results of a soil test. Foster healthy, diverse soil ecology through natural organic fertilizers, soil amendments, and compost or compost teas. Mow high until the end of the season, aerate frequently, water deeply, overseed, and dethatch if necessary.








Mechanical, Biological, and Least Toxic Controls. If all other methods have failed, and monitoring shows that your pest population is still above your action thresholds, use mechanical traps, such as sticky traps, and biological controls, such as pheromones, parasitic insects, or, in outdoor areas, goats. Then, and only then, should you consider spot treatment of the least toxic pesticides. You must weigh the risks associated with the use of a pesticide against the problems caused by the pest. Consider your options carefully, being mindful not to blindly jump at a solution that may have risks without first collecting the facts.

If you must use a pesticide, use the least toxic pesticide available, following the least-toxic criteria on this page.

Example (indoor): If a German cockroach infestation is severe, populations persist despite close adherence to cultural and mechanical practices, and pest thresholds are met after careful monitoring, a least toxic pesticide like boric acid may be warranted. Boric acid acts as a stomach poison on cockroaches; it has relatively low human toxicity and does not evaporate into indoor air.  

Example (outdoor): While prevention will stop future weed issues, weeds currently in the turf that may need removal can be addressed through non-toxic means. Weeds can be hand-pulled, or products like weed whackers or the garden weasel can be used as mechanical controls. Flame weeding machines are also an option. Biological controls like goats are also becoming more popular. And if all those options have been exhausted, refer to the organic compatible products list for least toxic options. But remember, all pesticides are poisons designed to kill, and even least-toxic products should be handled carefully.  










IV. What is a "Least-Toxic Pesticide?

Least Toxic Pesticides include:

(a) EPA-classified minimum risk pesticides
(b) USDA organic certified pesticides

This includes all of the following:

(i) boric acid;
(ii) silica gels and diatomaceous earth;
(iii) nonvolatile insect and rodent baits in tamper resistant containers;
(iv) microbe-based pesticides;
(v) pesticides made with horticultural soaps and oils.

The term 'least toxic pesticides' does not include a pesticide that is:

(a) An EPA registered pesticide that is not organic certified.

Products that meet this definition can be found on Beyond Pesticides list of Products Compatible with Organic.

The legal framework for this definition can be found in United States Legal Code:
7 CFR 205.601: Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.
40 CFR § 152.25 - Exemptions for pesticides of a character not requiring FIFRA regulation

Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) can also provide information on organic certified products.

Additional information on managing specific pests through least-toxic means can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ MangeSafe Database.