Pest Control in the Far Northeast U.S.

While New England is a relatively compact region — all six states together could fit in a number of other larger states — there are geographical and other differences that can influence pest control here. Instead of dealing with a uniform set of rules and regulations, companies operating in multiple states have to comply with as many as six different regulatory schemes. One challenging example is Massachusetts, which is not reciprocal with any other states. This means Massachusetts applicator licenses are not recognized by the five neighboring states. Massachusetts-based applicators have to obtain multiple licenses to work across state lines. Individuals have to travel to those states to obtain those applicator licenses.

Another example of regulatory actions hurting business is in Maine, which allows municipalities to create their own pesticide-related rules. As of this past winter, 31 different towns in Maine had created local pesticide rules. Another challenge was that until November 2021, Massachusetts license exams were paper-based. Anyone seeking licenses in Massachusetts had to travel to one of several satellite sites to take a written exam. That changed in December 2021. License exams in Massachusetts can now be taken 24/7 on a computer, from anywhere. This was one positive that came out of the COVID lockdown. Written exams were suspended during the lockdown, spurring the regulatory agency to develop a computer-based exam process.

GEOGRAPHY AND WEATHER. There are mountainous regions in all the states, but the northern tier states (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) are more mountainous and historically experience more extreme and longer winter seasons. This results in shorter spring and summer seasons, with snow sometimes still on the ground in April and a first snowfall coming in October. In response to our changing climate, this weather pattern seems to be changing, with milder winters in recent years and hotter, drier summers. The summer of 2021 was one of the hottest summers on record.

Five of the six states have an ocean shoreline, with Maine having the most coastal exposure. With coves and inlets, Maine has about 3,480 miles of shoreline. The one state without any coastal exposure still has about 587 miles of waterfront. Lake Champlain is 120 miles long and separates Vermont from New York. All this shorefront and coastline attracts vacation homes and vacationers, creating business opportunities because properties built in these areas will at some point need pest services. In the past, many of these vacation properties would be serviced for rodents while unoccupied over the winter. Lots of these vacation homes became havens for folks escaping COVID lockdowns, many of whom came from the New York City metropolitan area.

With more individuals working remotely, vacation homes have become full-time residences, creating the challenge of servicing occupied homes.

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New England PMPs are kept busy controlling American cockroaches.

The northern tier states are known for winter activities. There are 46 ski resorts in the three states and many more cross-country ski resorts. While there might be sub-zero temperatures outside, each of these resorts operate like hotels with guest rooms and food service operations. These resorts are just as susceptible to cockroaches and mice as their lowland neighbors in southern New England. All of them need pest management services.

TYPES OF ACCOUNTS. Educational institutions are a mainstay of the economy in New England. There are 244 accredited colleges and universities in New England (114 in Massachusetts; 44 in Connecticut: 29 in Maine; 28 in New Hampshire; 16 in Vermont; 13 in Rhode Island). Each of these schools have on-campus or off-campus housing and food service operations that need pest management services.

Biotechnology, pharmaceutical and life science companies in Massachusetts and the rest of New England are booming. According to MassBio, there are more than 1,000 biotechnology companies in the greater Boston area alone, ranging from small start-ups to billion dollar pharmaceutical companies. New facilities are being built to accommodate this boom. Properties previously used for general business tenants are being converted to house this growing medical/science sector. Servicing these businesses is sophisticated, requiring high-level communication and technical pest management skills.

Another economic driver is tourism. To the south, Massachusetts is sandwiched between the ski resorts in the north and the rocky coast of Maine, the Mystic Seaport (Mystic, Conn.) and Newport, R.I. There are 73 hotels in Boston proper and many more across the entire state. While there are well-known, world-class museums in Massachusetts (such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Gardner Museum, Science Museum & Children’s Museum) there are many other excellent museums that are less well known. Several that come to mind are the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, as well as the school’s three art museums in Cambridge; the Essex Museum in Salem; and the Whaling Museum in New Bedford. Boston is a hotbed of professional sports with the Celtics (basketball), Bruins (hockey) and Red Sox (baseball) playing in Boston. The Basketball Hall of Fame is about two hours from Boston (in Springfield, Mass). The New England Patriots play in Foxborough, Mass., about halfway between Boston and Providence. These museums and sports stadiums require pest management services.

Two of the single largest businesses in the region that employ thousands of people are the Bath Iron Works (General Dynamics) in Bath, Maine, and Electric Boat (General Dynamics) in Groton and New London, Conn., and Quonset Point, R.I. Bath Iron Works builds naval vessels and Electric Boat builds and services nuclear submarines. Both companies are significant contributors to the economy in their regions and create significant pest control service opportunities.

© 2020 A. P. Cortizas Jr. | AdobeStock and © Leise Jones Photography

Boston is home to many outstanding museums, including Harvard Art Musems. All of these museums require pest management services.

Medical tourism is another important economic driver in Massachusetts. There are 64 hospitals in Massachusetts, 17 of which are teaching hospitals with medical school affiliations. The hospital industry is the largest employer in the state. Individuals travel from all across the United States, and the world, to Massachusetts to receive specialized medical care. (There are 116 hospitals across the remaining five states, 16 of which are teaching hospitals.) All of these hospitals require professional pest control services.

Another tourism driver is the cruise industry. Before the pandemic, Boston was a growing cruise ship destination. That’s starting to recover after an extended COVID shutdown. With the recently completed multi-million dollar harbor dredging operation and expanded passenger terminal, the port of Boston is now able to receive the largest cruise ships, as well as mega container ships. Celebrity Cruise line joined Norwegian and Royal Caribbean this past summer to use Boston as a home port.

Boston Logan International Airport is the largest airport in New England and the 16th busiest in the United States. Logan airport services domestic and international air travel and plays a key role in this tourism. All of this activity generates pests — and pest control pest control service opportunities.

PCO ROUNDUP. In preparing this report, I spoke with a number of pest control professionals across the region. Thanks to the folks named at the end of this article for their input. The environment is pretty much the same across the southern states (Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts). Spring seems to be arriving earlier and fall lasting longer, extending the demand for outdoor-based pest control services. The northern three states have shorter summers and longer, colder winters, but that’s been moderating in recent years. The influx of occasional pest invaders tends to appear earlier in the northern states than in the southern three.

When asked what was the most common pest dealt with, mice was the top response. Rodent references often refer to active seasons for mouse and rat activity, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. Rodent season in New England now goes from January to December.

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New England PMPs deal with heavy mouse and rat pressure, so much so that that many consider the region’s rodent season to be all year long.

Cockroaches are another pest mentioned frequently by PMPs. I heard “Cockroaches are making a comeback” from several people. Bed bug business has cooled off, remaining steady, but at a lower level of demand for services with less hysteria, perhaps because bed bug presence is simply recognized as a fact of life. We also have more effective bed bug control methods and products than we had 15 to 20 years ago.

A growing service area is the tick and mosquito business. Ticks are spreading, with certain species vectoring a number of human diseases. There is more public attention being given recently to mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus, encephalitis and Chikungunya virus. People were spending more time at home and outside while isolating during COVID, so demand for mosquito control services grew throughout the region. Ants continue to be a positive service driver, with carpenter ants being an important and dominant pest in the spring and early summer. Demand for wildlife control services is growing, likely driven by more people spending time at home during the shutdown and thus being around to witness their friendly raccoons and squirrels scampering on porches and roofs.

No one interviewed reported textile pests (moths and beetles) in their top five insect pests. However, based on the 2020 Insects Limited sales of pheromone products direct to consumers, Boston is the second most textile-infested city in the U.S., after NYC. Providence was reported as the 12th most infested. Diagnosing and treating textile pests can be challenging in older, Victorian style homes with organic insulation, old windows with sash cords (there are still some of those around), antique furniture and Persian carpets.

While the COVID shutdown presented fresh service opportunities, the new business came with some challenges. With COVID isolation and the business world discovering remote working could work, many people left their offices and fixed work sites and moved to summer vacation homes, where they took up full-time residency. Some left their city homes permanently for the suburbs and country. A lot of this migration came out of New York City and the surrounding metro area. Vacation homes in places like Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire became full-time homes. This increased demand for home services in these areas, but the challenge was to service these properties while occupied 24/7 with people and pets. Service in many cases was limited to outdoor only. One person mentioned that some of the new occupants (in Vermont, for example) seemed to be more environmentally conscious and looking for organic/natural service options. Probably not unique to New England was the fact that some of these service areas in less populated regions required greater travel distances between accounts and increased costs. Spotty internet access in the hinterlands limited the ability to access and use web-based reporting, account information and map services. Paper maps still worked in these areas, as they’re not affected by limited internet access.

While cluster flies can appear in most areas of New England, the fertile farmlands of Vermont make them a common pest invading homes for shelter. Other common occasional pests in the fall include ladybug beetles, ground beetles, stink bugs, crickets and root vine weevils, conifer seed bugs and other flies.

New England is not as subject to invasive pests impacting pest control as in other areas of the country. Older invasive pests that have become established include the western conifer seed bug, Asian lady beetle and brown marmorated stink bug. A new one slowly making its way into the region from Pennsylvania is the spotted lantern fly (SLF). The SLF is a plant pest that produces sweet honeydew-like aphids. The secretions landing on objects below support staining black mold and attract stinging insects and carpenter ants. The browntail moth (BTM) is not new to New England, but it is primarily in coastal areas of Maine and Massachusetts. The BTM is a forest and fruit tree pest, but has significant public health risks. Contact to the caterpillar’s tiny poisonous hairs can cause dermatitis similar to that caused by poison ivy. Exposure comes from direct contact with the caterpillar, or indirectly from contact with airborne hairs.

© Kyle Klein

Older neighborhoods with an aging infrastructure help pests thrive in Boston.

American cockroaches are common problems in older parts of Boston. American cockroaches are often associated with sewer issues and defective plumbing. Older parts of the city with aging infrastructure such as leaking sewer pipes and street drains attract and support American cockroaches. Companies are reporting more field mice inside as new homes and developments are being built in formerly open spaces.

A common pest in the region is the phorid fly. Similar to American roaches, phorid flies are often associated with plumbing issues, especially in older structures with cast iron pipes. Plumbing repairs can eliminate the source, making management relatively easy.

I was once involved with a phorid problem in a nursing home. The fly was identified and source reported to management. The company I was with happened to be the third company brought in to solve the problem. Our advice (tear up the floor to access the plumbing) was the same as the previous two service providers. We were able to convince management to rip up the floor by drilling pilot holes in the floor to show flies coming up from beneath the slab. The repair cost to temporarily relocate the kitchen, tear up the floor, repair broken and leaking pipes and remove contaminated soil ran about $25,000. The cost to eliminate the residual flies was a little less!

Richard Berman

Today, there is specialized equipment that can map plumbing lines under unbroken cement floors and detect where leaks are located without having to tear up floors to inspect for leaks. Plumbers also use non-toxic smoke in plumbing lines to identify defective lines.

With active regional pests, along with bustling institutions and tourism, the market for professional pest management services in New England remains strong.

The author, the retired technical director of Waltham Services, Waltham, Mass., is now a consultant for RCBerman, LLC.

Author’s acknowledgments: Thanks to the following for contributing information for this article: Mike Peaslee, Modern Pest Services, Brunswick, Maine; Tony DeJesus, Big Blue Bug Solutions, Providence R.I.; Jim Miller, Yale Termite & Pest Elimination, Ansonia, Conn; Rob Guyette, Braman Termite & Pest Elimination, Longmeadow, Mass.; George Williams, Veseris, Boston; and Kevin Moran, Forshaw Distribution, Norwood, Mass.

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