By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Move in Sacramento to protect rats at expense of health of Californians
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Smell a rat?

If California Assemblyman Richard Bloom has his way it will soon become a lot easier to do so.

The legislator who hails from Santa Monica – a fairly well-off south state coastal community that started off as a resort that now has a median income almost 50 percent higher than the state average – wants to give rats a break.

Keep in mind we’re talking about the type of rats that spread disease and not ones of the political persuasion.

Bloom is pushing for a new state law that would ban what is being called “second-generation” rat and rodent poisons. The reason there are second-generation poisons are the rats – the bane of anyone who has had rid their homes of them – have essentially developed immunity to rat poisons that worked for years.

Bloom’s concerns aren’t parents trying to keep their kids from having their toes nibbled on as they sleep or preventing a host of diseases such as typhus that are now on an uphill swing in California being given a boost by growing rodent populations. He is worried about “predatory species, such as raptors, bobcats, and foxes (that) regularly consume rodents as part of their diet. Poisoned rodents also become more lethargic and exhibit abnormal behavior” according to an analysis of the bill.

I happen to share Bloom’s concerns when it comes to protecting raptors as much as we reasonably can.

There is more, however. The analysis says that data is “less conclusive in pointing to (rat poisons) as the specific cause of death in necropsied animals.”

Freely translated, there is no clear scientific evidence that rat poison are killing hawks, bobcats and other predators.

What is clear rats are a problem for a lot of Californians even if that is not the case for Bloom’s constituents that are better off than the average person that may have to deal with rats, gophers, and mice.

It is also clear based on an investigation into the cause of a major explosion in the rat population in downtown Los Angeles earlier this year that rats pose a health risk to that species that is becoming more dispensable in Sacramento with each passing year – humans.

The city hired CatsUSA Pest Control to determine why rats were starting to overrun part of La-La Land. The feedback from the experts was that unsanitary conditions such as human waste and hypodermic needles in the homeless encampments were creating a mecca for rats to proposer and proliferate.

And guess what rodents ferry about? They host fleas that are to blame for a repertoire of Dark Age maladies that can make humans seriously ill and kill them. Reoccurring bubonic plague pandemics through the centuries have been blamed for up to 50 million deaths in the Old World. One has to wonder what those victims without the luxury of modern sanitary measures and rodent control science would have thought of Bloom’s bill.

The fact medieval horrors are relevant to the debate is clear from what Los Angeles is experiencing. Typhus cases spread by fleas hosted primarily by rats numbered 109 in 2018, having more than doubled in seven years.

Typhus is supposed to be rare today because of our successful efforts to keep rodent populations in check and implementing sanitary living conditions. Like the bubonic plague, typhus is a nasty and painful disease that can be an effective killer as it has led to epidemics and pandemics. It killed more of Napoleon’s soldiers in his hasty 1812 retreat from Moscow than the Russians did. During World War I it was blamed for 3 million deaths in Russia plus hundreds of thousands in Poland and Romania.

Against that backdrop you might agree Bloom’s bill is a tad risky, to say the least, given not only has there not been scientific research that verifies his concerns but a risk assessment has not been done to determine if it is worth the potential of the massive loss of Californians’ lives or, in fairness to Bloom, perhaps two to three to a dozen or so people a year.

After all, one hawk is worth possibly killing off a dozen or so people, right?

Keep in mind this is the same Legislature that whole hardily embraced wind turbines that kill off a high number of hawks and other birds all in the name of being greener. Yes, technology has reduced the kill. The point is for what bad the wind turbines may do to wildlife a conscious decision was made by those elected to govern us that a certain loss is acceptable for the good that it does. There hasn’t been such a debate or research on Bloom’s proposal let alone verification by the science community that rat poison is that big of an issue when it comes to predators feeding off rodents.

Killing rats is not an easy thing to do in confined spaces let alone the great outdoors in downtown Los Angeles. You simply don’t put cheese or peanut butter in a trap and wait for the rats to bite.

I can attest to it. After going 11 years with only coming across a mouse or two in my backyard that my dogs quickly dispatched, a few months ago I suddenly had rats in my laundry room off my carport. It happened to coincide with a neighbor who literally hauled piles of junk into their backyard after the city’s weed abatement check took place.

I used a Tomcat attractant gel along with one of their traps to catch one. Then two of them drowned in the wash tub after it was backed up with water from my washing machine.

I finally figured out how they got into the laundry room. They had chewed through one of those flexible dryer exhaust tubes made of light wire and cloth. As I moved the dryer I heard a rat scurry out the vent.

I replaced it with metal flexible tubing and ringed it with sealant. A few days later it was clear a rat was still in the laundry room as every time I opened the door I heard a noise. By this time anything I thought was edible I had removed from the room and had reset two traps with the gel. It took a week before that I found the final rat dead. 

After chewing — and eating — about four linear feet of baseboard hidden behind free-standing shelves, it couldn’t resist the Tomcat attractant gel. It ate the gel but the trap didn’t catch him. I understood why when I found it. It was one of the biggest rats I had ever seen.

I’m now rat free. 

That said if I needed to choose between rats having free range and the attractant gel wasn’t enough, I’d use rat poison.

That’s what the folks at the California Environmental Protection Agency office in Sacramento did after rats invaded their outdoor playground. They closed the playground to avoid children getting sick from the rats and then used poison to kill the rats.

That, of course, made environmentalists go ballistic given the California EPA was using poison that might end up harming birds and animals that prey on rats.

It’s ironic that the California EPA that has a track record some contend is overkill at times when it comes to protecting the environment was slammed for employing a poison they had no qualms with to kill rats.

So now because the state EPA killed rats on its playground and inspired some environmentalists to try and stop the practice, the state Legislature may soon be sending public  health in California back to the 14th century.

Saving the lives perhaps of a few hawks that might die after eating a dead rat as opposed to the hundreds of raptors the state allows to be killed every year by wind turbines is well worth perhaps the lives of a dozen or so Californians each year.

Perhaps Bloom, if his bill passes, can introduce legislation to make the common disease carrying rat the official state rodent. Or, at the very least, he might suggest it be adopted as the official mascot of the California Legislature.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.