Neighborhoods in the downtown area of Dover have been dealing with an influx of large numbers of rats this summer. Residents are naturally concerned with getting these populations under control. It’s important to do so, as rodents can carry disease, and cause damage to property. But often overlooked is that the measures we use to control these pests are equally important.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a system of management that considers the whole ecosystem in deciding on how to manage pests. It focuses on habitat modification, sealing and structural repairs, sanitation, and least toxic control options with a minimal reliance on pesticides. Using IPM is an important strategy for the health of the public and the environment. IPM is cost effective, reduces the use of toxic materials and better pest control is achieved.
While commonly used, and even being recommended by some city officials in news reports, rodenticides (poison baits) are not considered a least toxic option in an IPM program. Just because a product is regulated by the government (think cigarettes) it is not an assurance of safety. Poison baits are very toxic. Tens of thousands of cases of direct poisoning are reported every year. At highest risk are children under five and pets. Our pets, along with wildlife are also at risk of secondary poisoning. What this means is that the poisoned rodent doesn’t die right away, but is slowed down and makes easy prey for neighborhood cats, dogs and wild predators. Surely, people are concerned about their children and pets, but why should we be concerned with the effects on other non-target species?
Scientific research has shown that diverse populations of predators like fox, opossum, and raccoons help to reduce the numbers of rodents in an ecosystem, thereby reducing the number of Lyme disease infected ticks. This means predator diversity equals lower Lyme infection rates. In Strafford county, where the infection rate of black legged ticks is more than 60% we are in dire need of a proper balance of predators and prey.
Birds of prey like owls and hawks are also at risk of secondary poisoning including sublethal effects that make them more susceptible to disease and accidents. Raptors are a part of the solution to rodent problems, and are encouraged as a part of rodent control programs with documented success. By killing and harming our beneficial predators, we indirectly cause an increase in the number of rodents, worsening our problem. What then, can we do to manage our rat problem in a safer more effective manner?
Prevention of pest problems is the best place to start. Follow these three basic steps. Seal: To permanently keep rats and mice out of structures, all possible entry points must be sealed. Clean: Sources of food and water must be eliminated, indoors and out. Trap: To address a current infestation, snap and electric traps can be used. Do not use glue traps and never use poison baits. For detailed instructions, visit Safe Rodent Control Resource Center.
Dover residents must work together to resolve the rat problem in a safe and effective way. By using IPM techniques, we can prevent future infestations and solve the issue for good, while protecting our children, pets and wildlife from being poisoned.