Room assignments have been distributed and supply lists have been allocated as new students gear up for another year at Chadron State College in Chadron, Neb. Meanwhile, members of the physical facilities department themselves are prepping for another year of new "residents" at the school.

Located near the base of the Black Hills, the campus has been known to attract more than the curious freshman.

"I was just getting ready for this interview when one of our custodians, Val Malone, called and said she had a snake in her building," says Alan Cisneros, maintenance supervisor. "We have been known to get everything from garter and bull snakes to the occasional rattlesnake."

Stacie Abold, custodial leader, adds that the campus will regularly see mites, spiders, bats, bees, box elder bugs and even the occasional bed bug throughout the school year. These pests can be a problem in any building type, but the department has seen increased pest problems in residence housing.

Gearing up for school, students are asked to supply amenities such as bedding and pillows, but many also bring plush chairs and drapery to decorate dorm rooms. More often than not, these items are carriers for pests, such as spiders and mice, that then flourish and spread throughout campus.

"So many students come to school with stuff that they have had boxed up for a year and stored in a garage or shed," says Cisneros. "Pests get in and are then unpacked back at school."

Abold adds that Nebraska's mild winters and increasing amounts of global travelers have exposed the campus to a larger array of pests, but the department has kept on top of the problem by being proactive. A combination of educating students on pest prevention and implementing live traps to catch rodents, have minimized potential problems.

Preparing For Battle

Before any battle, it is important to know the enemy, its' strengths and weaknesses, and its' likes and dislikes. For instance, custodial personnel at Chadron State College know that the wasps and snakes love the heat and sun on the North and South sides of buildings. Coincidentally, this is also where the entrances are located.

Knowing that these areas are prone to pests, department personnel will monitor the area, knocking down or spraying wasp nests and setting live traps to capture snakes. Regularly controlling pests in these areas improves the safety of staff and students entering the facility and reduces the likelihood of pests migrating indoors.

To eliminate pests before they become a problem, Cisneros, Abold and Jerry DeWitt, custodial leader, will personally and immediately respond to every pest complaint. Once the problem has been identified, the team will discuss a solution — whether it involves live traps, integrated pest management or the use of pesticides.

"We'll go out and evaluate the situation, making sure to have our personal protective equipment (PPE) on, and then we'll examine what we have on hand to combat the problem," says Cisneros. "We like to handle situations on our own, but if we feel we can't handle it, we'll call in a professional to team up."

To date, the custodial crew has maintained a streamlined pest management program throughout campus. Although the introduction of new students every fall does present challenges, Cisneros, Abold and DeWitt prepare for pest prevention far in advance by researching online and using trade publications.

"If push comes to shove, we'll call some of our chemical providers or local pest control services for additional information," says Cisneros. "They are very up-to-date on the latest chemicals and the best way of handling the situation."

This research and preparation is especially important in situations where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or other governmental departments restrict the use of specific pesticides or the killing of pests altogether.

Catch And Release

Every now and then, Chadron State College has experienced larger pests on campus.

"We have seen the occasional deer, fox, a couple coyotes and even a few mountain lions," says Cisneros. "You see anything and everything out here."

One pest that has caused its fair share of problems is the bat. But, as a protected species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, these animals cannot be killed, so custodial staffs were tasked with catching and releasing them back into bat houses that have been placed throughout campus.

"Once we got rid of the bats, we could go in and begin the cleaning process," says Cisneros.

Those that have experience with bats know that droppings dry quickly into a powder, requiring the use of PPE and respirators during cleaning. Once the droppings are cleared out, custodial crews go in with sanitizers and enzyme cleaners.

After a couple days of drying, staff goes back to the area to confirm whether or not it is clear of pests. If not, the process starts over again. Once the area is clear, staff will come back three more times over the coming weeks for confirmation.

"Our faculty and staff appreciate the catch-and-release program because we go in and remove the pests before we would opt to kill them," Cisneros says. "This is an agricultural area and we have a strong value for life."

This value of life stretches beyond bats to include mice, snakes and even the occasional pet.

"We use live traps to catch mice and once the traps are full, the staff will call us and we'll relocate the pests back into the wild," says Abold. "We've even helped a student catch their pet hamster using the live trap."

Some pests caught on campus go back into the wild, while others are used for educational purposes throughout campus.

"A couple years ago we were having problems with spiders — recluse, wolf and black widow spiders," says Abold. "Normally we catch and release them back into the wild, but when we find an exceptional specimen, we take them to the Science Department so students can observe and learn from them."