Across college campuses in the U.S., the use of pesticides (and to that extent, herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, etc.) remains pervasive as a convenient means of eliminating unwanted and potentially harmful organisms. Over 20,000 pesticide products are available for purchase in the U.S., a significant portion of which is directly marketed towards either lawn-care or agriculture. Though chemical agents may be indispensable for farmers to protect crops, the enduring practice of spreading pesticides on college campuses proves to be problematic. Research has long been conducted to examine the effects of pesticide exposure to both the environment and individual well-being; various scientific articles, journals and organizations cite the indisputable links between toxic-chemical exposure and adverse health effects including cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive effects, and neurotoxicity, among others. (See this sheet for more details: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/lawn/factsheets/30health.pdf) As for the ecological effects, pesticides may leech into water sources through the soil or run-off, diminish the proliferation of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, impedes nitrogen fixation (necessary for large plants to grow), and may poison non-target wildlife.
Chemicals are not the sole method of eliminating pests, nor do the benefits of pesticides outweigh its considerable consequences. On the WILD Wes courtyard, our team continues to introduce multi-prong approaches, including biological controls, to mitigate some of our region-specific pests. Unlike chemical control, biological control relies on natural mechanisms, including predation and parasitism, and requires careful observation to minimize potential side-effects. When faced with the problem of multi-rosa and bittersweet bushes, which tend to choke out other plants, our team pulled the plants from their roots and covered the area with woodchips to prevent future growth. For gypsy moth caterpillars, the team organized various means: hand-picking, burlap sack traps, and attracting birds to the courtyard through our berry-bushes. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of our strategies as well as implementing changes to the plans if/when necessary.
As much as campus aesthetics are important in enticing potential college applicants, the image of the college can extend beyond the traditional notion of pristine, pest-free lawns. Maintaining surburbia is unnatural, harmful, and highly-inefficient. College campuses can still be beautiful without all that pesticide.