BATTLE GROUND — The Pacific Northwest may not be as notorious as Australia for creepy crawlies, but pest control workers here still keep busy.
“We don’t have the scary stuff up here. I mean we have spiders, but …” said David Schuck, with a shrug. “I mean Australia, Brazil. There are giant spiders. That, I wouldn’t enjoy.”
Schuck has worked as a pest control technician at Aspen Pest Control for the last two years. His job takes him over a large region in the Portland metro area.
According to Aspen owner Joseph Hampton, 37, the creatures that bring the most business are, in order, ants, mice, spiders and “stinging insects.”
“We have one of the largest rodent populations in the United States in the Pacific Northwest. We get tons of calls,” Hampton said.
“It ranges from 10 to 13, sometimes 14 (jobs a day),” Schuck said of an average workday. “With the boxelder bugs — it’s not so much this year, it was more last year — but you’ll go to some homes and it looks like you’re in a sci-fi movie because they’re swarming over everything.”
A job will cost “around $100 per quarter,” while a one-time service is “going to be a couple hundred dollars, sometimes more,” Hampton said.
Mice in the house
On a recent foggy weekday in Battle Ground, however, there weren’t any swarms near a home with a manicured lawn and koi pond out front. Schuck, 39, was making a quarterly visit to the Haring home, where Janel Haring, accompanied by her terrier, Scruffy, discussed problems she’s had with mice. She is one of over 4,000 customers that Aspen was servicing this year.
“Living in the country, we have chickens, we have feed and stuff around,” Haring said.
Pest control work can see different types of issues depending on the season. Winter is the season of the mouse, as they scurry from the outside to keep warm and dry. And while some debate the ethics behind killing “pests,” or that fear of spiders is misdirected, Haring, well, she isn’t interested in cohabitating with chilly rodents or bugs.
“This is my house. They have all this space,” she said, gesturing to her open yard.
Haring opened the door of her garage, where guests take off their shoes before entering the home. But Schuck put on “bootie” or shoe covers before going in, since he would enter a crawl space. He also strapped on knee pads.
“I’m one of the older guys in the company,” Schuck said. “The younger guys don’t use them.”
The crawl space was in a kitchen pantry. Squeezing in between shelves of knickknacks, dishware and food, Schuck wiggled down and pulled out a square slice of carpet and flooring, revealing the crawl space. He pulled out a black box that contained a blueish-colored block of rodenticide that had been nibbled on.
Schuck lives in Vancouver with his wife and their two children, ages 6 and 1. Originally from India, Schuck was adopted by an Oregon family when he was 1. But he’s gone back to visit three times.
“Last time I went to India, I surprised people because I don’t sound Indian to them. I haven’t been there in 10 years; it’s been quite a while,” Schuck said as he started mixing chemicals.
Following the mouse-trap check inside, he sprayed the entire outside of the home to prevent boxelder bugs and stink bugs from congregating.
Schuck shifted his career to dealing with bugs, he said, when his wife experienced a schedule change. He previously worked in security.
“I was actually a customer of this company,” he said. “I needed something with better hours. My wife’s schedule got flipped around. I think I was on indeed.com and saw they were hiring. Security had its things — I mean it was fun. But this is, you know, you aren’t worried about people breaking into cars or threatening somebody. This is much more low-key,” Schuck said. He carefully went around the house with a backpack of chemicals attached to a hose and sprayed up and down.
Schuck didn’t wear a mask while doing the job. While sometimes being on the receiving end of customers’ concerns, he said he thinks a big misconception about his job is that it’s dangerous because of chemicals.
According to Hampton, the sprays that Aspen uses don’t require respirators.
“In pest control, the label is the law. When you’re using an insecticide or rodenticide, the label will govern and determine what type of protection or equipment should be worn. Our technicians are very familiar with those labels,” Hampton said. He noted that they are a certified Clark County Green Business, although that certification doesn’t address chemical product use.
He said the sprays are mixed using a “synthetic derivative of chrysanthemum. The molecule is very similar to the flower.”
Pest control technicians must be certified by the state Department of Agriculture, achieved by passing several tests. The department tracks any violations with pesticide use. In a 2013 report, the last available, the state investigated “300 complaints … which resulted in 184 violations.”
So far, the gig is working out for Schuck. And he’s learning a lot about bugs, which, he said, has been a help to his mom who still lives in Oregon.
“I’m not an entomologist by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “It was on a whim, but it’s worked out pretty well, so I’m going to stay as long as I can.”