You dirty rat: The vermin have spread to the Shuswap | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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You dirty rat: The vermin have spread to the Shuswap

Two black rats (rattus rattus) from a zoo in Germany.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Wikimedia commons

Residents in the Shuswap trying to deal with a growing rat problem, weren’t likely to get much help from local governments — Salmon Arm revealed this week it has live-trapped and relocating the rodents from its own property.

While councillors pondered another letter from residents complaining about the problem last week, Mayor Alan Harrison told iNFOnews Salmon Arm doesn't yet have a strategy. While it won’t use pesticides, the humane stance might have gone overboard when a rat problem popped up on city property recently.

“On public property that the City owns, we don’t use rodenticides, pesticides at all,” he said. "The only place we’ve trapped rats is at the airport, live-trapped them and transported them elsewhere."

Rats are not native here and Gail Wallin of the Invasive Species Council of B.C. said they should never be transported to different locations — they’ll only spread faster.

READ MORE: Everything you wish you didn't need to know about rats in the Thompson-Okanagan

Rats are a relatively new problem in the Shuswap, where it appears species that have established in the Okanagan in the last decade have spread, and in all fairness to Salmon Arm, no one appears to know what to do about it.

As the rat problem has progressed, several municipalities in the area have been asked to help deal with them but the answer has invariably been: Municipalities won’t deal with pest issues on private property.

“It seems to be a new problem but not an easy problem to solve,” Harrison said.

Dealing with yet another complaint from the community that called for more public education to prevent their spread, Harrison agreed. They’re considering a social media campaign to let residents know how to make their homes, yard and communities less appealing to vermin as well as taking direct action.

"Things that attract rats are backyard feeders, composting, any food source that’s outside the house attracts rodents and so we’ve implemented curbside organic pickup here and we’re encouraging residents to use that,” he said.

Wallin, with the invasive species council, says there are things individuals and cities can do, but they will be most effective working together.

But all municipalities asked the B.C. government for a province-wide strategy in 2017. A government response to that call says black rats and Norwegian rats have been established in the B.C. since the 1800s, although it also notes they’ve been established in Kelowna and surrounding areas just in the last five to eight years.

"Given the extent and abundance of rat populations in B.C., provincial-scale control programs would be cost-prohibitive and unlikely to succeed,” was the B.C. government’s answer before kicking it back to an invasive species working group.

Wallin said the first step is to prevent the rats from reaching the region, but once they’re there, cities have to respond before they become established.

In recent years, rats have been reported in the Okanagan, and within the last year, Shuswap cities have been addressing the pest problem at council meetings, although they've been reported on the fringes of the Shuswap prior to the pandemic, according to Nick Wong, invasive species council research and projects coordinator.

In October, Sicamous council directed staff to research the use of pesticides on private property and prepare a bylaw for the community to address the problem as a collective approach. Castlegar also reported first sightings of rats in the town in April, 2020.  

Wallin noted that the province could try and contain the rats to the Vancouver area to prevent the establishment of populations in other parts of B.C. There could also be a higher level of cooperation between regions and the province, including First Nations to address the issue, she said. In Alberta, a provincial program was created in the 1950s to prevent the invasive Norwegian roof rat from becoming established in the province, and has been successful.

"It can’t just be you trying to keep them out of your property, if the neighbour’s got them, you’ll get them,” Wallin said. “If this is a relatively new problem, then there may be a way to remove them from the area, to have a zero-tolerance policy. There is a role for education and awareness, but there’s no sense in education and awareness if you don’t take action... And the action needs to be a collaborative effort, not just the City of Salmon Arm because that’s totally ineffective."

“You absolutely need to reduce the populations, eliminate the populations or accept they’re going to expand or grow in numbers… when it comes to rats, poison is one of the things to use, but do you want to euthanize them? Trap them and euthanize them? Sterilize them?” she said, adding that the discussion needs to start at a regional level.

Matthew Wright, with Orkin Pest Control, said the company has been responding to an increasing number of rat problems in the Thompson-Okanagan region, especially this past summer in Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Kamloops and Revelstoke.

“They started in the warmer regions in the Okanagan and have been slowly migrating up the valley,” he said.

The team has been responding to invasive roof rats primarily, but also have reports of native pack rats, also known as bushy tail wood rats.

Snap traps are the most effective.

READ MORE: Got rats? The B.C. SPCA has some tips on how to keep them away

Reducing lumber and debris around the yard as well as trees and brush that touch the house, as they use this to travel indoors, can help prevent rats. Reducing the amount of food sources around also helps, he said.

“Using a snap trap with a raisin will help take care of a lot of them. That’s a pretty good way of getting a handle on them for the short term. For the long term you’ll probably have to change things up as they get leery of the same thing,” Wright said, adding that rats will learn once they see others killed in the traps. “They’re fairly smart.”

You definitely want to hit them hard the first time so the more traps the better as soon as you see them, he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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