Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Just for CEU providers

Pesticide re-certification classes, like the 2013 Fall IPM Seminar held at
the AgriLife Center in Dallas, serve over 15,000 urban pesticide
applicators each year in Texas.

The Texas Department of Agriculture is changing the way pesticide applicator training providers must operate.  The recently published Texas Pesticide Re-certification Course Accreditation Guide provides step by step instructions on how to put on a re-certification course, and get course approval.  It also outlines the new process of completing and submitting course rosters to verify attendance at the meeting.  

After studying the requirements, it looks to me like the new system is not a major change overall, but the reporting requirements will increase the administrative burden on some CEU course providers. My office puts on two large CEU training courses every year, with hundreds of participants; but I've concluded that the new system shouldn't affect our office's administrative time significantly.  This is because (1) we already have all participant names and license numbers in electronic format, and (2) the courses we provide consist of one big all-day meeting (without concurrent sessions).  But for some providers, substantially more time will be needed to document attendance and credits awarded.

Under the new rules, now in effect, TDA requires CEU providers to send an electronic roster of all participants in a CEU course within 14 days of course completion (previously we only had to supply copies of the sign in sheets filled out by participants). Presumably this system wasn't working well for TDA. Paper records are notoriously slow to access and deciphering hand written rosters could be a problem. To address the issue, TDA now has two electronic forms depending on the type of CEUs being rewarded: form PA-411E for agricultural licenses (including 3A licenses) and form PA-418E for structural pest control license holders.  

Under the new reporting system, if a person holding both a structural pesticide applicator's and an agricultural pesticide applicator's license wants to receive both kinds of CEUs for attending a meeting, that person's name must appear on both rosters.  Each roster must list all the appropriate CEU credits earned by those on the roster. 

So far, so good.  The only big difference between the current and former system is that attendance records must be submitted electronically.  For many providers this shouldn't be too difficult, as the names, addresses, and license numbers can be cut and pasted from an existing electronic roster and placed on the appropriate TDA roster(s).

Unfortunately, things get tricky when real life hits.  Suppose 100 people attend a training in which five CEUs are offered, and 2 people leave early, missing the last CEU.  You will now need to supply TDA with two rosters.  One roster will list the 98 people who sat through the whole training and received credit for five CEUs, and one roster will contain only the two early-departers.  The second roster will show that they only earned (the first) four CEUs for the day.  

Consider a parallel situation where 98 attend the full day's training and two people miss one CEU each--however one person comes in too late for the first CEU and the other leaves early, missing the last CEU. Now the course provider has to supply three forms: one with 98 names on it (showing they earned all five CEUs), one (showing the last four CEUs) for the late-arriver, and one for the early-departer (showing that he earned only the first four CEUs).  Conceivably this could get complicated with a large program and lots of people not staying for the whole program.   

Another tricky situation occurs when concurrent sessions are offered at a training.  Suppose you offer two concurrent sessions at your meeting.  For the first concurrent session people can choose between a talk on, say, (A) Lawn and Ornamentals or (B) Termite.  At the second concurrent session they choose between a talk on (C) IPM or one on (D) General Pest Control.  For this scenario the provider will need at least four rosters including one for people who attended each of the following combinations of talks: AD, AC, BD, and BC.  If there are three sessions, eight rosters will be required; for four concurrent sessions there will be 16 possible roster combinations.  Most providers will conclude that it is easier to just have a separate roster for each concurrent session.  It will also take a very patient administrative assistant to retype the name, address and license number of each session attender.

I strongly recommend all CEU providers maintain session sign-in sheets, or use some other paper means of documenting attendance at each session.  This will help tremendously in ensuring accuracy of the computer rosters, and will serve as a backup for the spreadsheets.  Remind all course attenders that they must have their license number if they want TDA to verify their attendance.  If you're a sponsor, you must keep course roster and attendance records for a minimum of two years (six years for private applicators). And lastly, remember that certificates of completion must still be supplied for all attenders as their proof of CEU completion.  

Advising Austin

The Stephen F. Austin State Office Building in Austin is
home to the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Last Thursday, 21 November, was the first meeting of the new Structural Pest Control Advisory Committe (SPCAC), which provides input to the Texas Department of Agriculture's Structural Pest Control Service.  I say "new committee" because the size and composition of the committee has been significantly revamped since it last met in April. Only four of last year's committee members remain, and seven members are new.

By way of review, the SPCAC has an advisory role only and does not make or enforce rules governing pest control in the state.  The committee meetings are, however, one of the few venues where PMPs (and consumers) can formally offer input into the way the their industry is regulated (it is common, for example, for visitors to the SPCAC to sign up to present public testimony on subjects related to pest control).  The SPCAC is also a way for anyone who is interested in the sometimes mundane details of pest control in Texas to learn what is going on inside the halls of the Stephen F. Austin Building, home to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The changes to the committee this year are the result of a bill passed during the 2013 Legislative session that expanded the committee to 11 from the original 9 set by the 2007 Legislature. The committee seemed even larger this time, however, since one position (a consumer advocate position) had remained unfilled since the original committee was founded.

I found the expanded committee excited and ready to assume its new tasks.  Much of the meeting was devoted to learning the requirements for Open Meetings, and how to handle Public Information Requests; however I thought it would be good to introduce the new committee and share a couple of the more significant new business items discussed.  

New Membership List

  • Peggy Caruso, IPM Coordinator from Katy ISD, is an original committee member and represents the seat for a school district employee associated with school IPM.
  • Dauphin Ewart, of the Austin company "The Bug Master" remains from last year's committee and is one of three members representing the interests of structural pest control operators.
  • Warren Remmey, Jr. also represents the interests of structural pest control operators and is owner of Spider Man Pest Control in San Antonio.
  • Scott Dickens is the third structural pest control operator member, Past President of TPCA, and owner of Champions Pest Control in Spring, TX.
  • Some of you may remember Roger Borgelt as a former attorney for the Structural Pest Control Board. Roger was appointed as one of three members representing the public interest, and was elected to be the new committee chair at this meeting.
  • Dr. Nancy Crider is a faculty member for the University of Texas Southwest Medical School and a registered nurse.  She represents the public interest.
  • Nancy Zaiontz, of GSM Insurors of San Antonio, is the new member representing interests of consumers.
  • Jay Jorns, of JNJ Pest Control in Katy represents pest management professionals with experience in natural, organic or holistic pest control.
  • Dr. Thandi Ziqubu-Page is an original committee member and represents the Commissioner of the Department of State Health Services.
  • I also serve on the committee representing an institution of higher education with experience in the science of pests and pest control.
  • There remains one vacant, public member position on the committee.
I was impressed with the credentials and enthusiasm of the reformed committee, and I think it will work well together. I think the expanded size will also benefit all parties as more points of view are expressed.  Any of us who serve are always willing to answer questions and discuss issues with you.  For a current listing of the committee and its meeting dates, click here.

Revamped Web Search Tool

The new license search tool on the TDA website
provides a more user-friendly way to find
pest control licensees or businesses in Texas.
Mike Kelly, SPCS Coordinator, and Leslie Smith, Director for Consumer Service Protection at TDA, demonstrated and answered questions about the new web search tool for Texas Pest Control businesses.  Currently the TDA website allows consumers, or any interested party, to search for any license holder or business online.  Up until now the only way to search was to go to the SPCS page and click on Current Licenses.  There you see a set of files in CSV format (which can be opened in MicroSoft Excel).  One has to save the file and open it in a spreadsheet and search for the information. Not extremely user friendly.

The new search tool allows you to search by zip code and refine your search while looking on a zoom-able map. Choose by license category or search directly by a business name or license number.  This tool should be useful for anyone wishing to confirm a legal license holder, or to search for an official address and phone number.  Since its launch October 8th, 1245 people have accessed the map view feature. 

Compliant Advertising

A big issue for many pest control businesses is making sure that their advertising is compliant with state law governing deceptive advertising.  Texas Department of Agriculture staffer Michael Kelly asked the committee for input on some new wording for Rule 7.152, governing pest control ads.  The changes would mainly require all ads to include the business name as indicated on the business license, and the business license number.  It's interesting how many different issues must be addressed, even with such a simple improvement to the rules. For example, the committee pointed out that font size requirements (critical in Yellow Page or newspaper ads) might not apply to a website.  And the proposed wording didn't define clearly what constitutes advertising.  Would a Facebook page for a company, or a Craigslist or Angie's List ad, be subject to these new requirements? Keep your eyes open for a more refined version of the draft rules to come out soon for public comment.

New Testing System

In April the TDA rolled out its new examination system, implemented to allow anyone who has applied and pre-qualified to take their applicators' or technicians' or category exams.  Now applicants can test on any day of the week, and at any of 22 PSI Online testing sites throughout the state.  By all accounts the roll out has been successful with the new sites administering 582 certified applicator exams, 1 fumigator exam and 683 technician exams between 15 April and 13 November.  Statistics show that 44% of certified applicator candidates for pest control passed on their first try and 60% passed on their second try.  Pest control technicians passed 88% of the time on their first try.  

In addition to these topics, the committee discussed ways to better educate consumers on how to recognize and deal with unlicensed applicators, regulatory review of rules regarding license applicants with criminal backgrounds or arrests, and rules being written (in response to SB 162, recently passed) allowing military personnel to count relevant military experience in pest control toward their certified applicator and technician licensing requirements.  We also learned that the extensive rule clarifications, including CEU requirements for school IPM Coordinators, discussed in April have not yet been published in the Texas Register due to an unexpected staff shortage due to illness.  

Future Meetings

If you have any interest in attending future meetings of the SPCAC, they are normally held the third Thursday of the months of January, April, July and October.  Next year's scheduled meetings are on 23 January, 24 April, 24 July, and 23 October.  The meetings are always held at 9 am at the Stephen F. Austin Building at 1700 North Congress, in Austin, TX  78701. Because schedules do change, should a quorum not be available, it's a good idea to check with the agency or one of the committee members before showing up at the door.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Entomologists and their license plates

I've always appreciated the creativity that goes into vanity plates--even if they are sometimes, well, a little vain. But you have to love the entomologists' license plates submitted to the first-ever BugMobile contest sponsored by the Entomological Society of America.

Members of the ESA were asked to submit photos of creative, insect-themed cars or license plates.  Most sent in insect-related license plates that they own or see around town.  People visiting the site were then invited to "Like" their favorites, and the plate with the most "likes" wins.

The winner was a cool-looking, University of Arizona themed license plate with the no-so-original (in my opinion) text, DRBUG.  Much more original, in my opinion was the plate, shown here, that must have belonged to a pest management professional, DBUG4U.  Also way cool was the yellow-with-black-racing-stripes Chevy Camaro, with the Iowa plates reading BMBULBE.

One entomologist advertised his or her enthusiasm about entomology with the plate N2BUGS. I liked that.

Some plates only an entomologist would love, or understand, such as the Colorado plate reading SCARAB2, suggesting an enthusiasm for beetles in the family Scarabeidae (and implying that she is not alone, assuming SCARAB1 had already been taken).  Even more of an insider plate read BUP DR, which I might not have recognized as an entomologist's plate in another context--BUP referring to the beetle family Buprestidae.  And BTLEMAN.  And HISTERS and SCARABS (Beetle families Histeridae and Scarabeidae) in the same driveway no less.  I'll bet I can guess what dinner table talk is like at that home is like.  What is it about beetle guys and their vanity plates?

Some of the references were too obscure for me.  CANTHON turns out to be another dung beetle.  CY BUGS... cyborg bugs?  SP NOV is entomologist code for "new species" in Latin... representing a dream of every entomologist to name a new bug species.

I got BUG DOOD, and TSETSE (for the African Tsetse fly--carrier of sleeping sickness), and BUG ACE (which I suppose is proudly displayed by an Associate Certified Entomologist).

As for my car, I do have two bumper stickers that I've never displayed publicly.  They read "Have You Hugged Your ExterminatorToday?" And, "Entomologists are Good for What Bugs You"...  Maybe some day I'll be bold enough, or vain enough, to advertise my inner bug nerd.

If any of you have a BugMobile photo that you're especially proud of, I'd like to see it. Just email me a copy at m-merchant at tamu dot edu, or post a link to your picture in the comments to this post.  If I get enough, I'll post them on this site for all to see and enjoy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hackberry nipplewhat?

This week has been the week of the hackberry nipplegall maker, Pachypsylla celtidismamma. I should have known when, during the Entomological Society of America's annual conference in Austin last week, I opened my 23rd floor hotel room blinds and saw the outside window covered with these insects.

Pachypsylla adults (about 1/8-inch long) are
commonly found at this time of year indoors, around windows
Sure enough upon return to my office, calls and messages were awaiting me about little "gnats"  covering window screens, outside walls, and cars. The small size of these insects allows them to enter buildings with ease, even squeezing through window screens.  Though these insects are present annually, the invasion seems to be unusually heavy and widespread this year with complaints from Austin to east Texas and the Dallas area.

Pachypsylla is a genus of tiny insects that grow up inside galls that form on hackberry leaves. Also called psyllids (SILL ids), they are not gnats or flies, but belong to the same order as the leafhoppers and cicadas. Like other gall making insects, Pachypsylla adults lay their eggs on leaves, which then start to swell around the egg or developing larva, forming a gall. After feeding on the gall tissue all summer, Pachypsylla adults emerge in the fall. Unfortunately for your customers, these adults commonly enter structures at this time in their search for a warm place to hang out and, perhaps, catch some football or prime time TV during the winter.

The nipple-like swellings on hackberry leaves give this little
insect its name.
Despite being a nuisance, hackberry nipple-gall insects are pretty harmless.  They do not bite, do not eat clothes and do not hog the remote. Apart from needing to be vacuumed up from windowsills occasionally, there is little you can do about these insects. In most cases, poor seals around windows and doors provide entry points, but truth is they can get indoors through any crack or gap in the building envelope.

Those who have tried spraying window screens with an insecticide noted that the main result is smeared windows.  If you do offer to spray, keep your sprays limited to window and door frames, and obvious gaps and cracks in outdoor siding.  I do not advise treating indoors, as these insects should die relatively quickly anyway. And no, you can't treat the trees. A vacuum is the best control tool, in my estimation.

For customers who find the invasion to be an annual occurrence, removing nearby hackberry trees and replacing them with another well-adapted tree is one possible solution.  Keep in mind, however, that these little guys can fly.  They were, after all on my 23rd floor windows  last week. So if other hackberries are nearby, cutting down the tree may not help a lot,  especially during a banner year like this.

I have no explanation for the great numbers of nipplegall makers this year.  This obscure group of insects has not been as well scrutinized as other, more important pests.  However we do know there was something they liked about 2013, rain at the right times, the temperature, or few natural enemies.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

When customers' delusions affect their pets

Long-time readers of this blog, or you who hear me talk at pest control conferences, know that I occasionally address the subject of delusions of parasitosis.  This is one of the trickier "pest" problems to solve, especially since there is no pest involved.  In my office I receive 2-3 suspected delusional samples per month, many as referrals from some of you.  The problem seems worse this year, as I have had many people convinced that they have intractable biting mite problems after reading misleading and harmful information online.

A recent article published in the Veterinary Information Network News Services addressed the issue of pet owners bringing their pets in for treatment of non-existent bugs. Apparently PMPs and vets both have to deal with this issue, and I found the article informative and helpful. One story, highlighted in the accompanying photo, had a happy ending when the client accepted psychiatric treatment. Sadly, it is very difficult to get most delusional clientele to pursue such therapy.

Some of these folks perceive normal grooming behavior of their pets as proof that the pet is infested and suffering. I guess the lesson here is that in cases where you cannot detect a valid pest, and the pest description doesn't match reality, take everything a customer claims with a grain of salt.  For more information on diagnosing mysterious bug bite cases see my factsheet.