Cities, activists, and animal lovers push for less toxic ways to control rodents
My vet told me he's seen lots of dogs, cats, and horses that have been poisoned by rats."
"A little girl was devastated to come across the young juvenile hawk that had bled to death on the sidewalk," she says.
"At first, I went door to door and passed out fliers, asking if anyone else was finding dead birds, for a five block radius," remembers Owens Viani. She discovered that although most bird books say Cooper's hawks eat other birds, a local photographer had shot images of them also feeding rats to their young.
RATS plans to urge hardware and chain stores in the San Francisco Bay Area to immediately stop selling the products named by the EPA. "We want to push them along," says Owens Viani. "People are really concerned about this problem. They are tired of relying on poisons."
Meanwhile, on Sept. 9, San Francisco sent letters to about 140 hardware stores, big box stores, and garden centers, asking them to voluntarily "pledge to stop ordering" the affected products by Sept. 15. Signed by Melanie Nutter, director of the city's Department of Environment, the letter included a list of "alternative rat and mouse baits" that meet the EPA's standards.
"The EPA is being hamstrung" by the court battle, says Chris Geiger, San Francisco's green purchasing manager. "The products in question are highly toxic. We think we owe it to the people of San Francisco to let them know about this situation and to encourage them not to sell or buy this stuff."
"The good thing is that there are other things people will buy instead," adds Geiger.
It isn't the first time San Francisco's been involved in the rodenticides controversy. In 2007, it virtually banned the use of rodenticides on city-owned properties, except for sewers, "where," says Geiger, "there's nothing else we know of that can be used" to kill rats.
Sensing a potentially explosive issue that could pit environmentalists against people with health concerns about rats, Geiger says the city is trying to work with store owners in order to avoid trouble. "We want to help vendors not have people picketing outside their hardware outlets," he says. In coming weeks, San Francisco plans to hold community meetings to deal with consumer concerns about rodenticides.
So far, more than 15 stores have complied with the request. Among them: Sloat Garden Centers' entire chain, including its stores in San Francisco, Mill Valley, San Rafael, Kentfield, Novato, and Danville; Papenhausen Hardware, in West Portal; and Cliff's Variety, in the Castro.
Says Cliff's Tamayo: "We're selling out what little we have left of the old products and have already restocked our shelves with new items." At first, Tamayo considered slashing prices to lure worried customers back to the store. "I thought I might have to put them on sale," he says. But after getting only four complaints, Cliff's is, at least for now, staying the course.
As for Owens Viani, she says it's also now time to push the state to do what San Francisco is doing but on steroids, by having the Golden State order harmful rodenticide products removed from stores. "We want California to pass a law, so we are going to approach a legislator to get a bill going," says Viani, who lives in the flatlands of Berkeley, which is a prime breeding area for rats.
For information about the next meeting of RATS or to help the group succeed, please go to www.hungryowl.org/kboib or contact Owens Viani at email@example.com.