Retail Poison Ban Insufficient Protection for Wildlife

A northern spotted owl released near Blue Lake by Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/Bird Ally X staff after treatment. Photo: Laura Corsiglia.
A northern spotted owl released near Blue Lake by Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/Bird Ally X staff after treatment. Photo: Laura Corsiglia.

In 2014, the State of California banned a rat poison that had been determined to cause sickness and death in an increasing number of wild animals—second generation anti-coagulant rodenticides (SGARs) sold in retail stores as d-CON. Although the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had submitted an opinion that the rodenticide needed to be more tightly regulated, it still took three years to get the toxin off the shelves of neighborhood stores. e ban, however, was not total. Commercial applicators and farmers can still buy and use this poison—and they do.

Killing rats with a slow-acting poison, as it turns out, is a very effective way to spread poison through an ecosystem. Rats sick and dying from ingesting rodenticide are caught by a variety of wild predators including raccoons, bobcats, mountain lions, eagles, hawks, weasels—any critter that eats rodents.
Now a newly published study shows that on the North Coast, in the heart of the coastal range forests (where cannabis cultivation has punched holes and created edges in owl habitat), 70 percent of northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) tested positive for rodenticide exposure. Unfortunately, this means that our region is now close to par with the rest of California. An ongoing study in the San Francisco Bay Area undertaken by Wildcare in Marin County has found 83 percent of all wildlife tested to be exposed to SGARs. No doubt similar numbers are found in other states and nations.
The legalization of cannabis in California will hopefully bring cannabis agriculture into the regulatory process and might lead to the migration of cannabis agriculture out of remote wildlands—away from sensitive species such as the Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti) and the northern spotted owl. But even in another location, animals will still be exposed to this poison.
Submission to regulatory review isn’t enough. The rat poison put out by a worker at a vineyard in Napa or Sonoma counties is likely legal. When vast swaths of our world are taken over by industrial agriculture, we cannot simply allow that land, its waters, its life, to become a sacrifice zone. If we are serious about diluting rat poison out of our environment, we need to stop producing it. We need to cease manufacture and sales of these poisons.

In 2017, a leader in the effort to rid our shared world of these poisons, Raptors Are the Solution (RATS), worked with California Assembly member Richard Bloom to bring a bill (AS-1687) forward that would complete the ban of SGARs in our state. As it is currently written, the bill would ban all use of SGARs, with a few exeptions for agricultural food production and storage. The bill is currently stalled in the Assembly’s Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials (ETSM) committee.

The solutions to humane and effective rodent control are many, but require some thought and effort—exactly what users of poisons seek to avoid. Broader impacts to our world from such short-cutseeking tactics, however, are staggering. Alternative solutions aren’t that difficult.

Conflicts with wild animals—even non-native wild animals like Norway rats—are almost always created by human housekeeping issues such as feeding pets outdoors, unprotected food storage, and materials and debris piles around outbuildings. Addressing human behavior is the first step. Putting up an owl box and encouraging raptors in your area will also help—they eat rodents for a living! There are myriad humane and ecologically sound resources and strategies.

In the Humboldt area and looking for advice on a local problem? Interested in volunteering at the wildlife clinic? Call the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center at 707-822-8839. We can help!

Raptors Are The Solution (RATS) has a great web page with tips and links: www.raptorsarethesolution.org/alternatives-tips-print-friendly/.

The Hungry Owl Project also has good information, especially regarding encouraging owls to nest in your area: www.hungryowl.org/nontoxicrodent-control/.

To build support for AS-1687 on the North Coast, contact your State Assembly representative and let them know that you stand with our wild neighbors! Tell them you want second generation anti-coagulant poisons fully banned. Here in the second district, contact: Assemblymember Jim Wood
1036 5th Street,
Eureka, CA 95501
707-445-7014

Rodenticide poster by Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center

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