THUNDER BAY – Efforts to control the city’s skyrocketing rat population is largely being put in the public’s hands, with the hope that increased knowledge will stop the outbreak of rodents across the city.
The city and Thunder Bay District Health Unit on Wednesday unveiled a new public education campaign, designed to raise awareness for residents on how to keep rats from taking over their yards, how to recognize their presence and direct them to resources that can help eliminate the vermin.
Lee Sieswerda, the health unit’s environmental health manager, said reported sightings have gone from one or two a year to 244 in less than two years.
“Of course, rats have always been here,” Sieswerda said. “They haven’t really haven’t been a problem in residential areas up until the last year-and-a-half. We’ve put together some information because this is a new problem for homeowners and many don’t know how to deal with it.”
A brochure that will be distributed to residents lists five steps for controlling rats, starting with looking for evidence of their presence, cleaning-up and limiting food sources. More advanced measures include trapping or contacting a licensed pest control company.
“Rats need the same things as we do. Food, water and shelter,” Sieswerda said, adding they can live off food from birdfeeders, garbage and even eat dog feces.
“They’re very resilient. Water, of course, don’t allow standing water. You don’t want to do that anyway. And then shelter, that really comes down to recognizing what a rat burrow looks like where they live. They like to dig and live under sheds. They will get into your house. We’ve seen some fairly horrific situations where they’ve gotten into low-income housing situations and become fairly well established.”
When there’s one rat visible that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg, Sieswerda added.
“If you see one, there’s probably dozens more that you just haven’t seen and they’re around,” Sieswerda said. “It’s important when you see one to take the sighting seriously and to implement control measures right away.”
Thunder Bay city council in late 2017 approved the development of a $5,000 awareness campaign, rather than any type of trapping or baiting.
Jason Sherband, the city’s manager of solid waste and recycling services, said rat populations seem to be increasing across Ontario, not just in Thunder Bay.
“With other municipalities they are providing some low level education. Certainly their bylaw officers and their public health inspectors are out there enforcing applicable bylaws, which we’re doing here, but the key is everyone is asking homeowners to look after the problem on their own,” Sherband said.
“They’re not looking for municipalities to provide a formal abatement program.”
Rats can spread diseases such as E. coli and salmonella, though Sieswerda said the public health risk is fairly low.
But a more widespread infestation could increase that danger, Sieswerda warned.
“A big part of public health is prevention. Rather than let the population of rats increase and then eventually become a significant public health problem, it’s better to jump on it early and educate the public and make sure they know how to deal with rats they find on their property to eliminate them early,” Sieswerda said.
Sherband acknowledged one attractive home for rats can mean they take over a whole neighbourhood.
“You could have the cleanest yard on the street and then a neighbour two over or one over has debris and food out and it could be an attractant to rats,” Sherband said. “If it is a concern to you, then we recommend you contact our city bylaw office. We have bylaw officers that can go to a property and educate those homeowners on what they can do to clean things up.”