California SPAR talks about what’s next

|  September 18, 2019
Jim Steed

Jim Steed

Our September issue is devoted to coverage of the close call pest management professionals (PMPs) had in California with a proposed ban of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs). In mid-August, a proposed bill known as AB 1788 was shelved for approximately two years so that more research can be conducted before legislation is enacted.

One PMP who is probably the most familiar with the inner workings of the bill’s progress is Jim Steed. Steed is not only owner of Neighborly Pest Management, Roseville, Calif., but also the National Pest Management Association’s (NPMA’s) State Policy Affairs Representative (SPAR) for The Golden State. He is also heavily involved with the Pest Control Operators of California association (PCOC).

Steed was kind enough to sit down with us recently to share some insight about why the legislation, although tabled, is still of extreme importance to those in the pest control industry.

PMP: Why do you think this issue bubbled up to the forefront the way it did? And why did agriculture (ag) get an exemption from the start?
Jim Steed (JS): The ag exemption was not scientific and had little to do with wildlife. There was one reason only: Proponents of the bill could overcome the rest of us, but not the California ag lobby. Once there was an exemption, everyone wanted an exemption.

But one of the biggest challenges to this issue is its complexity. Very few people understand all of the relevant aspects of it. That’s one reason why any proposed changes should be discussed with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), not the California State Assembly. The DPR looks at data, and balances the risks vs. benefits. When we move that into a political arena, then you have passion in play. There’s not a single advocate for balance, but instead, you have competing advocates. A great number of legislators we encountered were extremely sympathetic, yet terrified of the environmental lobby. At one point, lobbyists threatened to protest and camp out in the office if there was “one single compromise.”

PMP: Now that the bill has been tabled until 2021, what does that mean for the professional pest management industry?
JS: It means two things:

1. The content of this bill is in trouble. It’s a rejection of this version, in my opinion. It’s teed up. Although the bill is still alive, I’d argue the strategy that this bill pushes is not acceptable. While we will very likely see a version of this bill in January, just a few months away, it won’t be one with this structure. But that’s probably the best news to come from this, when you step away and look at the big picture.

2. The use of the word “ban” sets a precedent with national implications. The strategy we suggested used terms like “additional use restrictions” and “education.” We think that because restricting and education is the more sensible thing to do than implementing an outright ban, we think it will occur.

If this bill had succeeded, environmental activists no longer would have to go through regulators. Then there would be a “Well, we’ll be back with… fill-in-the-blank.” I predict that next year, we definitely will either be seeing the re-evaluation on a robust schedule, or we’ll see a new version of this bill with different content that will probably move quickly through both houses and the governor’s desk. But I would much rather see it be out of the political arena and back to the regulatory arena.

PMP: Where did the concept of the ban originate, do you think?
JS: Interestingly, this is the fifth year we’ve seen the bill. All along, we’ve been arguing that the judicious use of rodenticides is essential for public protection. To pull the tool away when rodents — and cases of typhus — are surging is not a responsible response to public health.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, all the regulation was about user safety, and around people. The scrutiny of active ingredients increased as a result, and today, we have a very strong record about using pesticides around people. Now it’s about ecological protection: Is it in the water? The soil? The air?

So I think you’ll have other agencies, like those related to water, affecting policy like never before. There’s a singular concern over the secondary target.

Because of this, the next 20 years are NOT going to be like the past 20. We are now going to have to make decisions that affect ecological impact now more than ever.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife helped propagate about 90 percent of the rodenticide residue samples. But in their report, they specifically point out that there is no detectable population effect in an otherwise healthy number for all the species, even mountain lions. So while some animals are sick or killed, the population overall has increased. In fact, urban interactions have tripled in the past 10 years.

PMP: What can PMPs do to ensure the industry has dialogue in any piece of legislation being considered?
JS: Take a look at the stewardship of individual products. If we have even a small number of applicators misusing them, the bad actions of a few of us can ruin it for all of us. Don’t contribute to the problem, and report to authorities those who abuse the label.

Also, those PMPs who are not part of an industry association need to understand that they should be! Join the association, and support it. Remember, we’re the only group advocating for the pest control industry.

I counted 38 environmental groups advocating for the ban, as volunteers. If we don’t rise up and speak on our behalf, then nobody will. There’s nobody else to make the case.

Give your association financial support and take time to volunteer. If we didn’t have robust associations, you can only imagine the type of laws being passed in the next five or so years. What happened this summer is a reminder of that.

I think a lot of PMPs function with their businesses, assuming other PMPs who are active in associations are ensuring things are happening. I was guilty of that myself for the first 10 years or so of my 26-year career. But then, I became a little repentant for being on the sidelines. We need all hands on deck. This is just the beginning. We had a very fortunate outcome for now, but it’s time for me to retire on a high note (laughs).

Our industry is quintessentially an American industry, we have made family businesses. Out of 3,000 PMPs in CA, 2,000 have one to three employees. These people have made a business of ownership — the American dream. A lot of companies are families that go second-, third-, fourth- generation — and we employ a lot of people with great careers, even without a high level of education. So it’s an industry that needs to protect itself in that it’s a group comprised of very special, blue-collar, grass-roots people performing a great public service. We are protecting food, people and the environment. We should be proud of this industry, and engaged in its defense.

Heather Gooch

About the Author:

Heather Gooch is the editor for PMP magazine. She can be reached at hgooch@northcoastmedia.net or 330-321-9754.

2 Comments on "California SPAR talks about what’s next"

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  1. Jerry says:

    It’s more important to have a solution before you make stupid laws you don’t know the recourse. I recommend politicians stay out of our profession. You want to save some non target animals? Then go back to allowing us to buy 9 lb pails versus 18 so we have less waste going to the dump sites. Meanwhile who’s paying the medical bills and funeral bills for the people about to die?

  2. Ray says:

    Why not begin the use of Contrapest from Senestech to get ahead of the Environmentalists by using a eco-friendly and humane alternative to poison? The costs will come down as the use becomes more widely adopted.