Senate bill would limit second-hand wildlife-killing rodent poisons
It’s not a slam-dunk, but nobody wants to see owls, hawks, and foxes keep dying by eating poison rats and mice. So, a bill passed the House to minimize the use of certain rodenticides in the Commonwealth could go to the Senate.
“It’s a good bill,” said Senator Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, which represents the first district of Essex and Middlesex. “It certainly doesn’t solve all the problems, but it would move us forward significantly.”
At issue are the second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGAR), which are commonly used and kill non-target animals.
Tarr describes Bill, H4931as a very progressive and practical way to better understand how and where rodenticides are used in the Commonwealth and to encourage a shift to the use of other methods of control.
If the H4931 measures were enacted, the state would create a centralized, searchable digital database.
Representative Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said: “We know the medical correlation, but we don’t know the use. This would provide the usage data.
“As it is now [SGARs] can only be used by professional pesticide companies anyway,” said Hawkins, who represents Bristol’s Second District. “You can’t buy it at the store. You’re not supposed to 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, daycares, and all state-owned or operated buildings and land.
These programs would first require the use of non-SGAR rodent controls, Hawkins said.
Some of these alternatives are now being deployed in communities that have seen an increase in rat activity in recent years. In Newton, for example, poisonless traps, carbon monoxide machines and, believe it or not, contraceptives are used to reduce rat populations..
Much of the discussion about pesticides lately, Tarr said, has focused on their impact on pollinators, especially bees. What this bill does, he said, is draw attention to the secondary poisoning that can be caused by certain pesticides, in this case the poisoning of the very predators that help control rodent populations.
“So a rodent is killed in a kind of brutal process as a result of using these chemicals, and then a predator eats that rodent and it suffers the same fate,” Tarr said. “So you can inadvertently or unintentionally have a very detrimental effect on the food chain in the natural environment.”
The scale of the problem
Zak Mertz is executive director of the Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center at Barnstable. Birdsey and the Curtis Metro Boston Wildlife Center are part of New England Wildlife Centers (NEWC) and treat all kinds of injured wildlife.
Between the two hospitals, Mertz said, the 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 then 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 it’s a live animal and we’re trying to save its life, we’re going to start treatment,” Mertz said.
However, he said it’s important to note that the NEWC is unable to test animals for rodenticides when they first arrive. The first priority is to save the animal, and testing is expensive, so they only send tissue samples to a lab if the animal dies. So while it’s very likely that a patient has rodenticide poisoning, it’s not necessarily confirmed, he said.
Birds of prey at your service, free of charge
Mertz said it would be great to ban all SGARs, but rodents can be a real problem and some controls are needed. Rodents carry disease and can cause structural damage to buildings.
“The general sense is that we want to move those poisons that have the most deleterious effects on the food chain to the bottom of the toolbox,” Mertz said.
He also points out that the widespread use of SGARs is counterproductive.
“You’re kind of banging your head against a wall because you’re taking out one mouse or one rat at a time, and yes, that can bring down the population,” Mertz said, “but it can also prevent people to do maintenance that will really stem the tide of the real problem.
Mertz tells the story of a Great Horned Owl they took in a few years ago. He was the sole survivor of a family that was poisoned with rodenticides, but he was treated and survived.
“It took 253 days before his blood clotted normally and before he could return to the wild,” Mertz said. “During this time he ate…I can’t remember the exact number, but it was somewhere near 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 other things.
“This speaks to the enormous ecosystem services that each of these predators provides over their lifetime,” Mertz said.
What’s next for Bill?
Hawkins said the bill, which crossed the House on a voice vote, was never intended to pursue an outright ban on SGARs.
“It wouldn’t have gone anywhere, it wouldn’t have left the committee,” he said. “We would do it this session, the next session, the session after, and how many animals would be dead by then? We wanted something that would just pass and, bang, make a difference in one session. the House, we have that.
Traditionally, the House and the Senate prepare separate bills and then the two are merged. In this case, however, there is no corresponding Senate bill. Instead, supporters are hoping the House bill will pass the Senate during its informal session.
“During an informal session, any member can object to something being picked up,” Tarr explained. “So the only way everything goes is with consensus. If a single member objects to something coming up, it doesn’t come up.
That means passing a bill during this time can be a challenge, he said. Even if it passes the Senate, he said, there would still be a number of steps before it could land on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk to be signed into law.
On the other hand, the informal session runs until early January 2023, when lawmakers are sworn in for the next formal session.
“According to Massachusetts Constitution, we have to meet every 72 hours,” he said. “So usually in the Senate there is an informal session every Monday and every Thursday. So we meet regularly. This means that we have many informal sessions to propose this bill.
The bill is now in the Senate Ways and Means Committeeof which Tarr is a member.
“I urge the committee to report the bill favorably to the prosecution,” he said. “The impact of pesticides on our natural environment is really important to address.”
An opportunity to talk about the problem of rodenticides
Mertz and Hawkins believe the bill is a step in the right direction and gives the state a foundation to build on. 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 real impact of this stuff and what we’re seeing and reach a lot more people who hopefully will make better choices in the future,” Mertz said. .
“Even if we don’t get it through the Senate, we’ve already made a difference,” Hawkins said.