Photo courtesy Kersti Muul: In this file photo from December 2020, a snowy owl fans named Yuki prepares to take off from a roof on the top of Queen Anne. The public’s interest in Yuki led Queen Anne raptor advocate Tanea Stephens to launch a pilot program aimed at reducing rat numbers through non-lethal means.
Photo courtesy Kersti Muul: In this file photo from December 2020, a snowy owl fans named Yuki prepares to take off from a roof on the top of Queen Anne. The public’s interest in Yuki led Queen Anne raptor advocate Tanea Stephens to launch a pilot program aimed at reducing rat numbers through non-lethal means.

A rodent abatement program that used nonlethal means to reduce the rat population at a future construction site in Queen Anne was so successful organizers are ready to expand it into other areas.

Ever since a snowy owl fans named Yuki showed up in Queen Anne in the fall of 2020, Tanea Stephens, Queen Anne wildlife activist and Raptors are the Solution Seattle chapter director, has tried to educate people in Queen Anne and other neighborhoods about the dangers of using poison bait traps to reduce the number of rodents around residences and businesses or developments.

In early 2021, Stephens approached Maria Barrientos, principle at BarrientosRyan, the developer behind the future 21Boston construction project, and asked her to consider participating in a pilot program, Poison Free by 2023, by using non-lethal means to reduce the rodent population as required by the city rather than traditional means.

Instead of hiring a pest control company to set out poison bait traps at the future development, Barrientos contracted with Seattle’s Parker Eco Pest Control to administer a birth control solution at different areas at the site. The rat population numbers were then monitored by scientists with FYXX Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping cities and groups develop safe, effective population strategies for invasive or overpopulated mammal species.

The birth control solution used by Parker Eco Pest Control doesn’t kill rats, instead it makes them infertile. As well, the birth control is nontoxic for animals who come across it and does not kill animals who normally eat rats, like the snowy owl.

Stephens said in May that after eight months, scientists with the fertility control expert team reported a 91 percent reduction in the rat population around the future build site.

“I just feel like it’s a win-win situation for wildlife and people,” Stephens said.

Not only is this better for the environment and animals in the food chain, Stephens said the fertility control solution is more effective than use of traditional anticoagulant rodenticides, which stop working after a time because rats stop visiting the poison bait stations, and rat numbers begin to increase again. Most rats live between eight to 12 months, and they are fertile at two. They have on average four to seven litters, with nine to 12 pups in a litter, a year. This works out to be 15,000 descendants of one breeding rat in a year, Stephens said.

“So that is what we call rat math, and that is why it doesn’t work,” Stephens said of the poison bait stations. “It’s actually impossible to manage those rats when they stop using the bait stations.”

Stephens said with the pilot program a success, she is ready to move to the next phase of the project: taking the idea to other businesses and neighborhoods.

To ensure the fertility program could be profitable to pest control companies, Stephens said Parker Eco Pest Control formulated a business model to make it profitable to use in their everyday operations that other pest companies can follow, too.

“Our hope is to inspire and motivate those people to change their models, too,” Stephens said.

With that in place, Stephens wants to pitch the birth control program idea to other businesses in Queen Anne and then other neighborhoods in Seattle. She hopes people will volunteer to share the program with others, as well.

“For the rat birth control to be effective, everyone needs be involved,” Stephens said.

As well, the more businesses and homeowners participate in their neighborhoods, the less they will pay for the program. For example, Stephens said if every business owner, from West Galer to McGraw on Queen Anne Avenue North, participated, it would cost them $18 a month for the rat abatement program.

“Frankly, I don’t see why anybody who thinks they have a rat problem wouldn’t want to use this,” Stephens said. “It really is a no-brainer situation.”

For more information about the program or to learn about expanding the program into other neighborhoods, email Stephens at searatschapter@gmail.com.