It all started two weeks ago, when I saw what I thought was a termite, then another, scurrying into a crack in our townhouse’s foundation, between an outside wall and the patio tile. I’d seen termites before, and remembered their telltale long bodies and pointed behinds — and we all know what happens when you have termites, right?
I began to hyperventilate at the thought of the big primary-color-striped toxic circus tent that exterminators would surely demand be put over our house. Not just because we all dread the process of bagging up clothing, linens and dishes to protect them from the poisons exterminators let loose inside those termite tents — but because of the poisons themselves.
As the mother in a household full of allergic and chemically-sensitive people, spraying that poison throughout our entire home was simply not an option for me, period. And, as a family living a vegan lifestyle (respecting every creature’s role in the ecosystem), bombing these critters (and others in their wake) dead with toxic chemicals didn’t sit well with me on the humane front either.
So, what’s a family who doesn’t want the toxic termite tent to do?
Cleaner, Kinder Termite Control
Just a little research (ultimately The San Diego Natural Guide) led me to find that there is a growing movement toward non-toxic, natural termite control. Ecola is a green business that has specialized in alternative termite and other insect management in our region since 1983. The company, owned by Susan Fries since 2000, uses formulas of plant essential oils, salts, microwave heat treatments and other non-toxic options to effectively rid homes and offices of termites.
The Ecola inspector who came to my home told me that the toxic termite tents that are so common are almost never necessary, at least with chemicals; Ecola uses the tents, but with heat instead of poisons inside. He also told me that Ecola’s once-small business is booming, as more and more people begin to seek less toxic alternatives to the poisons and termite tents. Other companies have cropped up in our area offering alternative termite treatments as well.
Caroline Celia, a local homeowner, environmentalist and longtime Ecola customer, says when she found the company in the phonebook a decade ago, there were no other companies offering non-toxic termite control options. She has had no more termite problems or aftereffects from the Ecola treatments. "I'm glad people are finally starting to see that it can be done without all the toxins," Celia says.
Rethinking “Pest” Management
My journey to living a less toxic, more green and more humane lifestyle has been evolving over the past decade. Before that, I must admit, I didn’t think too much about things like termites’ role in the ecosystem (they save forests by eating decomposing wood and making room for new trees, aerate soil, cycle beneficial nitrogen back into the atmosphere, and feed birds, lizards and other species).
But, now that my eyes have been opened to this way of seeing the world, even the term “pest control” pushes buttons for me. The idea that any animal invading “our” living space is a “pest” forgets the fact that insects, spiders, mice, squirrels, moles and even rats are all fellow creatures on the planet with purpose, and we all share the land.
So, when we have bugs in our house, I try to get them out without killing them. I will openly cop to the fact that now and then a bug still freaks me out, and I have been known to panic a bit and even fatally swat. I tell you this because I don’t believe it is about some perfect ideal of never making a regrettable choice, never smacking a mosquito biting you or stepping on an ant you don’t notice on the sidewalk. What it is about is adopting a new mindset when it comes to other living creatures we call “pests.”
This doesn’t mean we need to live with bugs or rodents in our homes — and in fact it’s often unsafe to do so. It just means that we can find and use less toxic, more humane ways to remove them from the premises and send them back to their outdoor homes. All it takes is an online search, and perhaps also calling in some local experts who are trained in non-toxic, humane critter management.
If you have bees, there are several local live bee removal companies, who will get the nest out of your living area and safely relocate it. (Albert Einstein famously predicted that if we lose this "keystone species" of pollinators, man would only have four years of life left.) If you have mice or rats, there are humane and poison-free mouse and rat control companies. (Rodents are important to the balance of plant life.) And if you have skunks, snakes, bats or other wild critters — who of course play their own important roles in the ecosystem as well — Project Wildlife can come extract them humanely, and has a triage center right here in Carlsbad.
A Happy Ending
The good news at the end of this story is that I was mistaken: the bugs I saw were not, in fact, termites (and I was pleased that Ecola’s inspector was honest with me about that). So, not only did I not have to face the nightmare of the toxic termite tent, but we don’t need to do anything at all. The inspector did offer the option of a natural treatment to prevent termite colonies from taking hold in our attic, but there was no big urgency or sales pitch in it, which I appreciated.
And the best news is that those bugs living in the foundation of our townhouse — whatever they are — inspired me to research this topic and offer Patch readers an opportunity to reconsider traditional “pest management,” poisons and the less-adorable critters in our community.