rats

New York City’s Proactive Approach to Rat Management and the 2013 Rodent Academy, (Part 2) Rodent Academy Visits Collect Pond Park

By Marcia Anderson

On the third day of the 2013 Rodent Academy, participants visited numerous sites around lower Manhattan to improve their ability to identify rat burrows, runways, harborages and food sources.

The Rodent Academy participants visited Collect Pond Park which lies atop one of New York City’s foremost sources of fresh water prior to the American Revolution. Collect Pond was a large, 60-foot deep pool fed by an underground spring and was a favorite spot for picnics and ice-skating.   In the  17th century the Dutch settlers called it “kolch” meaning “small body of water.” By the early  19th century, the pond had become a communal open sewer. In 1805, in order to drain the garbage-infested waters, a 40-foot wide canal was opened that today is known as Canal Street. Even after the pond was drained, due to the area’s high water table and the improper filling of the pond with garbage over an active spring, the site remained swampy and mosquito-ridden. Throughout the  19th century, nearly all of the city’s cholera outbreaks originated in the former Collect Pond neighborhood. By 1811, the City completed the filling of Collect Pond and had become known as “Five Points.” Today, this area is known as the Civic Center, due to the presence of many governmental offices.

What does all of this history have to do with rats? Think about it. This is a legacy dump site with buried garbage. There are lots of legacy rodent tunnels, developed over  100 years ago, 20’-60’ deep underground, complete with cosmopolitan rodent freeways and rodent apartments. And better yet, they connect to the human subway system providing a regular source of food.

Eyewitness accounts from security guards in surrounding buildings speak of large rats running back and forth from burrows in the park to the subway and storm drains and back again. We also noticed a lot of pigeon activity. The birds were feasting on worms and other bugs from the rich soil dug up from centurys old buried garbage.

This site is similar to much of NYC and other cities around the world, such as Rome. The new neighborhoods and cities are built on the remains of the old cities containing legacy garbage, legacy rats, ancient tunnels and rat infrastructure deep below current city streets.

Despite the cards being stacked against the New York City Department of Health and other rodent control professionals,  progress is being made. There are new technologies in monitoring, backed up  by expanding knowledge about rodent behavior that is being used against them. In addition, neighborhoods are actively helping the City to identify and exclude rodent access and working to eliminate food sources. The City is also deploying new types of rodent proof garbage can/compactors.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New York City’s Proactive Approach to Rat Management and the 2013 Rodent Academy

By Marcia Anderson

Rat Management

Rat Management

The New York City 2013 Rodent Academy was sponsored jointly by the NYC Department of Health (NYCDOH) and the EPA Region2. The academy also drew people involved in rodent control from the National Parks Service and pest management professionals from Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Alaska.

The responsibility of dealing with rats in the city is shared among NYCDOH, city building owners, and the City Departments of buildings, transportation, sanitation and parks. Unlike the other city departments, however, the NYCDOH has an ‘Emergency Response Team’- a group of exterminators to help out other city agencies with severe rodent challenges. A call to NYC’s 3-1-1 number about a rodent issue brings a prompt response.

We learned that NYC is taking an aggressive and proactive approach to pest management including inspections and compliance assistance. Inspectors go out into the community, block by block, and inspect for evidence of rodent activity, rodent entry points, runways, harborages, and more. They educate building managers, home owners and the general public on how to prevent rodents and conduct up to 140,000 of these inspections per year. After they educate those responsible for properties in violation, they follow-up at sites where people have remediated rat infestation problems. These proactive inspections were first conducted in the Bronx and Manhattan, and now include Brooklyn and Queens.

This pest inspection program uses hand held devices to reduce paperwork enabling more people to remain on the streets and in the communities to deal with rodent problems. The results of this work are available on the NYC Rat portal website.

The NYC DOH does not just bait and trap. They use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which is a science-based decision-making process that identifies and reduces risks from pests and pest management related strategies. IPM employs horticultural, mechanical, physical and biological controls with selective use of pesticides when needed. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pests by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls.

Rats are monitored to determine the extent of the rodent problem at any site. Participants learned that NYC is not only monitoring with tracking powders, but is utilizing some new biomarkers. After consumption of new baits, a bio-florescent marker is left in the rodent droppings making the droppings visible by black light. This helps to identify how rodents are traveling from nest to food sources and back. It can also help measure a rat colony range, and determine if rodents are entering from the outside and invading buildings along a particular wall or through a specific opening that needs to be sealed.

In NYC, rats have had at least 200 years to become established, multiply and learn areas and harborages in which to feed, hide and thrive. City infrastructure like sewers, stream and water tunnels, subways, parks, refuse collection, highways, streets and seaports provides innumerable harborage sites throughout our metropolis. Some hidden harborages may include:  ground earthen burrows, beneath sidewalks and curbs, within interior and exterior structure voids, old sewer system tunnels, subway platforms and track tunnels, and within construction materials.

On the third day, the Rodent Academy participants visited numerous sites around lower Manhattan to improve their ability to identify rat burrows, runways, harborages and food sources. Look for a discussion of some of these sites in upcoming ‘Rodent Academy Part 2’ blog.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Red Tail Hawk Succumbs to Secondary Rat Poisoning in Madison Square Park

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Once again, another beautiful city raptor is dead from secondary rat poisoning. The dead body of a red- tailed hawk that lived in Madison Square Park was sent to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) for necropsy. The state is still investigating the case. What we know so far is that there were partially reabsorbed clots of blood indicating a prior episode(s) of poisoning as well as the massive bleed-out that led to this bird’s painful death. The concerned citizen, who found the bird, also informed the state that there was an over-deployment of 19 rat bait boxes throughout this tiny, two block park. The NYS DEC is also investigating this alleged rodenticide over-application.

Prevention of rodent infestation is better than cure. Once a rodent infestation is established, it can be very difficult to control, so, it’s best to stop the rats from getting onto your property in the first place. Such measures will minimize the risk of an infestation and reduce the numbers of rodents on your property.

The following precautions for rodents should be taken wherever possible:

1. Clean up food remains, rubbish and debris close to buildings so that rodents don’t have a ready source of food, and keep refuse sealed in rodent-proof containers.

2. Pest proof buildings to prevent rodents from getting in. Cover openings with 6 mm wire mesh to prevent rodents from entering buildings.

3. Fit metal “kick plates” at the bottom of doors to prevent gnawing.

4. Place metal guards around pipes and wires entering the building.

5. Trim trees and overhanging vegetation, and remove ground cover near foundations.

6. Predators, such as cats and raptors, help to keep rodent numbers down.

7. If a rat infestation does occur, either live capture traps or spring traps should be considered as the next option. Where spring traps are used, they should be placed under cover or protected to prevent non-target animals and birds from being caught. Rodents prefer to run along the edges of open ground, so placing traps against walls or other hard surfaces works best.

8. Traps may not be sufficient to deal with significant infestations. If the use of rodenticides is deemed necessary, a series of initial steps must be taken. Carefully read the product label and other industry and government guidance, and make sure that you follow all the instructions, as required by law. Use baits only for as long as it is necessary to achieve satisfactory control and normally no longer than 35 days in any treatment. Remove all bait at the end of the treatment. This may help limit the buildup of resistance amongst the rat population, therefore making any future control easier.

Rats in the subway

Rats in the subway

Rodenticides are poisons and are also toxic to young children, pets, and other wildlife, as we have seen by the poisoning of two young red-tailed hawks in Central Park and others around NYC in the past year. Failure to adequately protect baits from access by animals and humans (particularly children), may lead to serious poisoning incidents. So, it is best to avoid rodenticide use where possible and utilize other methods of control, without endangering children, pets and other wildlife.

For more information on controlling rodents go to www.epa.gov/opp00001/controlling/rodents.htm.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Disappearing Pigeons and Rats from a Bronx High School

By Marcia Anderson

Pigeons and rats are disappearing from the terrace, roof and sidewalks of the Roosevelt High School building at 500 Fordham Road in the Bronx, thanks to a pair of red-tailed hawks and their three eyasses, or nestling hawks, which have made the pediment of Collins Hall at the Rose Hill campus of Fordham University  their home. The red-tailed hawk is a large bird of prey, breeds throughout North America and is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The birds have been a mainstay in New York City with many known nesting sites in Manhattan and the Bronx:  5th Avenue, 888 Seventh Avenue, St. John the Divine, Highbridge Park, Inwood Hill Park, South Riverside Park, Houston Street, and Shepard Hall, City College and the Fordham University site.  All sites had productive nests with offspring this past spring.

Over the years, the hawks have nested everywhere from the American Museum of Natural History to the Unisphere in Queens. In 2004, there was a public uproar over a Fifth Avenue co-op building’s decision to destroy a red hawk nest, which had grown to a size of eight feet and 400 pounds. Fordham is an ideal location for the hawks as  there are plenty of squirrels, rats and pigeons for the hawks to prey on while having no predators to worry about.

A Red-tailed Hawk

Garbage and rats are an increasing problem on the sidewalks surrounding the Roosevelt High School building, because the Department of Sanitation has reduced the number of dumpsters allowed for school use throughout New York City.  The garbage bags pile up outside of school buildings and become rat magnets.  The head custodian at Roosevelt High School is very careful not to place highly toxic pesticide baits for the rats outside of the building in an effort to prevent any secondary poisoning for non-target birds or mammals. Secondary poisonings occur when birds of prey, pets, or other wildlife find carcasses, or slow moving rats that have been poisoned by rodenticides. They feast on the toxic rat bodies and could be killed by the toxins themselves.  The custodians use snap traps and less toxic baits in bait stations instead.

The red hawks and their fledglings have done an excellent job reducing the rat population in the area around Fordham University, along with the problem of pigeon debris left on the roof and terraces of the high school and other nearby buildings. Take home message: There is more than just pesticides that can reduce the number of  rats, mice and pigeons in New York City!

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.