When a snowy owl touched down among the rooftops and trees on top of Queen Anne last fall, Tanea Stephens, along with fellow Queen Anne residents and daily visitors, regularly flocked to the side streets off Queen Anne Avenue to admire and photograph the country raptor wintering in the big city.
Affectionately named Yuki — the Japanese word for owl — the snowbird of prey gained celebrity status in Queen Anne. Stephens, the Washington director of Raptors Are The Solution, on the other hand, was concerned for Yuki’s safety. If the bird ate a poisoned rat who consumed a dangerous rodenticide in a bait box along an alley behind Queen Anne North, everybody’s favorite fair-feathered friend could die.
Stephens and other conservationists used Yuki’s time in Queen Anne to educate people about the dangers rodenticides pose to animals like raptors and other predators in the food web that normally eat rats.
“You don’t really need to use this really strong poison when there are other safer options,” Stephens said.
Now Stephens is expanding on that work. With the help of the FYXX Foundation, an organization that promotes non-lethal wildlife management solutions, and a willing local pest management company, Stephens has launched the campaign Poison Free by 2023, a pilot program aimed at getting people, especially business owners, to stop using traps filled with these dangerous rodenticides in favor of a non-toxic fertility control solution, ContraPest.
BIRTH CONTROL FOR RATS
In one-year study conducted by FYXX Foundation in a mixed-use neighborhood in Washington D.C., the rat populations decreased by 99 percent with the use of fertility control bait. The upper Queen Anne mixed-business use study will see if similar results are achieved, Stephens said.
For the one-year pilot program, an FYXX Foundation scientist will guide Stephens and Parker Eco Pest Control through the process. Stephens said, basically, rats will be lured to drink the ContraPest in strategically placed bait stations. Rat populations are expected to go down as female and male rats are unable to reproduce.
Stephens said in an email that the average infertility of a rat free-feeding on ContraPest for a week is approximately six to nine months. Depending on the rat’s age when it first consumes the fertility control, the rat could spend most of its life infertile because a rat’s average life span is eight to 12 months.
Best yet, Stephens said, is the rats metabolize the fertility control product in minutes, and other species who normally prey on rats, such as owls like Yuki, are not affected if they eat a rat that has consumed the ContraPest. One of the big hazards of the anticoagulant rodenticides is if an animal preys on a poisoned rat, that poison can also kill them. They can also poison songbirds and even children if they come across a bait box and consume the sweet-flavored rodenticide. In addition, unlike rat poisons, if the fertility control liquid spills, it dissipates within seconds and does not leach into the ground, Stephens said.
She said FYXX scientists will determine whether the bait stations are working based on the amount of ContraPest rats consume.
The bait sites will be cleaned frequently, and the consumption of the Contrapest measured and boxes refilled as needed, Stephens said. As the number of rats goes down, Stephens said, less product needs to be set out in alleyways, and business owners save money in the long run.
At the end of the year, Stephens said, FYXX Foundation’s Dr. Loretta Mayer will analyze beginning consumption rates with the ending consumption rates and develop a hypothesis of the study’s success, Stephens said in an email.
“We hope to establish a protocol that can be used by other neighborhoods,” Stephens said.
Stephens has already successfully enlisted the cooperation of Seattle developer BarrientosRyan to participate in the pilot program for a large housing and grocery complex that will be built at the site of the current Safeway on Queen Anne Avenue.
The future development site was a logical starting point for the pilot program because the city requires developers to take pest abatement measures prior to any demolition at future construction site, Stephens said. Demolition at the future is slated to begin this fall.
“This will be the first time that a developer in Seattle is using a non-toxic fertility control rat abatement strategy for their demolition, which we think is really exciting,” Stephens said.
Maria Barrientos, principal developer for the project, said the decision to participate was not difficult after speaking with Stephens and FYXX representatives.
“Once we understood the food chain and eating habits of other birds and animals, it was the right thing to do, so no poison is ingested by any creatures,” Barrientos said in an email. “… The snowy owl is a great poster bird for this effort.”
She said she was not surprised the city staff approved the non-toxic rat abatement alternative over the traditional rat poison.
“... The city is very aware of these issues, and they were super supportive,” she said. “It makes sense for all of us.”
Stephens said within the first couple of weeks since volunteers distributed 27 fertility control bait stations at the site in mid-June, monitors saw consumption activity at two sites in nearby ivy beds, which are nesting habitat for rats.
With phase one of the pilot program complete, Stephens began enlisting nearby businesses on Queen Anne Avenue between McGraw and Galer. She said ideally all businesses on that strip would participate.
“The fertility control works sort of like the [COVID-19] vaccine — we have to get a certain amount of participants for it to be effective,” Stephens said.
Meanwhile, Stephens is continuing her efforts to educate Seattle residents and business owners about the pilot program and the importance of eliminating rodenticides from the food web.
To learn about the pilot program, go to www.raptorsarethesolution.org/Poison-Free-By-2023.
People can also email Stephens at email@example.com to learn more about the program and eliminating rats or use of rodenticides in their neighborhoods.
For more information about the FYXX Foundation, go to https://www.fyxxfoundation.org/. To learn more about RATS, visit https://www.raptorsarethesolution.org or https://www.facebook.com/RaptorsAreTheSolution.