Senate bill would limit rodent poisons killing wildlife second hand


It’s not a slam dunk, but nobody wants to see owls, hawks and foxes continue to die from eating poisoned rats and mice. So a bill passed in the House of Representatives to minimize the use of certain rodenticides in the Commonwealth could pass in the Senate.

“It’s a good bill,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who represents the First Essex and Middlesex District. “It certainly doesn’t address all the problems, but it would help us significantly.”

They are the second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) that are commonly used and kill non-target animals.

Tarr describes legislation H4931 as a very gradual and practical way to better understand how and where rodenticides are used in the Commonwealth and to encourage a switch to other control methods.

If the measures in H4931 were enacted, the state would create a centralized, searchable, digital database.

Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said, “We know the medical correlation, but we don’t know the usage. This would provide the usage data.”

“As it is now [SGARs] can only be used by professional pesticide companies anyway,” said Hawkins, representing Bristol’s second district. “You can’t buy it in the store. You shouldn’t be able to buy it online, but you really can. We are looking for the next step.”

The bill would also require the implementation of integrated pest management (IPM) programs in schools, including public colleges and universities, day care centers and all buildings and properties owned or managed by the state.

Those programs would initially require the use of non-SGAR rodent controls, Hawkins said.

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Some of these alternatives are now being used in communities that have seen an increase in rat activity in recent years. In Newton, for example, non-toxic traps, carbon monoxide machines and, believe it or not, birth control are all used to reduce rat populations.

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Much of the recent discussion about pesticides, Tarr said, has focused on their effects on pollinators, particularly bees. What this bill does, he said, is draw attention to the secondary poisoning that some pesticides can cause, in this case poisoning the predators that help control rodent populations.

“So a rodent is killed in a brutal process because of the use of these chemicals, and then a predator eats that rodent and it suffers the same fate,” Tarr said. “So they can, unintentionally or unintentionally, have a very detrimental effect on the food chain in the natural environment.”

The scale of the problem

Zak Mertz is Managing Director of Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable. Part of the New England Wildlife Centers (NEWC), Birdsey and the Curtis Metro Boston Wildlife Center treat all types of injured wildlife.

Between the two hospitals, Mertz said, NEWC treats a few hundred animals each year for suspected rodenticide poisoning.

“When an animal comes in that we suspect has rodenticide poisoning, we often diagnose and treat the symptoms,” Mertz said.

Take, for example, an owl that is bleeding from the mouth and breathing heavily, and whose blood does not clot properly.

“Because this is a live animal and we are trying to save its life, we will start treatment,” Mertz said.

However, he said it is important to note that NEWC is not able to test animals for rodenticides the first time. The first priority is saving the animal, and the tests are expensive, so they only send tissue samples to a lab from when the animal dies. While it’s highly likely that a patient is suffering from rodenticide poisoning, it’s not necessarily confirmed, he said.

Birds of prey at your service, free

Mertz said it would be great to ban SGARs altogether, but rodents can be a real problem and some controls are needed. Rodents transmit diseases and can cause damage to buildings.

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“The general sense is that we want to move those toxins that have the most damaging effects on the food chain to the back of the toolbox,” Mertz said.

He also points out that widespread use of SGARs is counterproductive.

“You’re banging your head against a wall because you’re taking out a mouse or a rat at a time, and yes, it can bring the population down,” Mertz said, “but it can also discourage people from doing pre-emptive maintenance that’s flooding the actual.” problems will really stop.”

Mertz tells the story of a great horned owl that they captured a few years ago. He was the sole survivor of a family poisoned with rodenticides, but he was treated and survived.

“It took 253 days for his blood to clot normally and for him to be able to return to the wild,” Mertz said. “At the time he… I don’t remember the exact number, but it was about 2,000 mice.”

Like many other birds of prey, the great horned owl eats a variety of foods in the wild, including mice. The red-tailed hawk is also common in Massachusetts and eats mice, rats, voles, rabbits, and ground squirrels, among others.

“It speaks to the tremendous ecosystem services that each of these predators provide over the course of their lives,” Mertz said.

How’s the bill going?

Hawkins said the bill, which sailed through the House by ballot, was never intended to pursue an outright ban on SGARs.

“It wouldn’t have gone anywhere unless it left the committee,” he said. “We would do it this session, the next session, the session after, and how many animals would have died by then? We wanted something that would just go through and make a difference within one session. We have that in the house.”

Traditionally, the House and Senate prepare separate bills, which are then merged. In this case, however, there is no corresponding Senate bill. Instead, proponents hope the House bill will pass the Senate during its informal session.

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“In an informal session, any member can object to something being recorded,” explained Tarr. “So everything only works with consensus. If a single member objects to something coming up, it doesn’t come up.”

That means passing legislation at this time can be a challenge, he said. Even if it gets through in the Senate, he said, there are still a few steps to go before it could land on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk to be signed into law.

On the other hand, the informal session will run until early January 2023, when lawmakers will be sworn in for the next formal session.

“The Massachusetts constitution requires us to meet every 72 hours,” he said. “So generally the Senate has an informal session every Monday and every Thursday. That’s why we meet regularly. That means we have a lot of informal meetings where we can introduce this bill.”

The bill is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Tarr is a member.

“I urge the committee to present the bill positively,” he said. “It’s really important to address the impact of pesticides on our natural environment.”

An opportunity to talk about the rodenticide problem

Mertz and Hawkins believe the bill is a step in the right direction and will give the state a foundation on which to build. In the meantime, they said, it already gives them a tick in the win column.

“It gives us a great platform to talk about the true impact of these things and what we’re seeing and to reach a lot more people who will hopefully make better decisions in the future,” Mertz said.

“Even if we don’t get it through the Senate, we’ve already made a difference,” Hawkins said.

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