Why California’s Ban on Retail Sale of Toxic Rat Poisons Isn’t Enough

Licensed pest control operators will still be allowed to use rodenticides that kill wildlife and pets

Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of d-Con rat poison, has held the US EPA hostage for the past several years, keeping it from implementing stricter rules about the use of dangerous rat poisons—the products that are killing pets and wildlife. But on March 18, after several years of pressure from Earth Island project Raptors Are The Solution (RATS) and many other groups, as well as from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation took a giant leadership step by making these “second generation anticoagulants” harder for consumers to use.

Santa Rita MountainsPhoto by Grendl on FlickrA Cooper’s Hawk with a dead mouse. Poisoned rodents can then be eaten by other animals, like this hawk and can end up poisoning other animals and birds farther up the food chain.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation is banning direct over-the-counter sales to consumers of the deadly second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) that have killed thousands of birds of prey as well as predatory mammals like foxes, mountain lions, bobcats, and the endangered California fisher.

The new regulations take effect on July 1, and will prevent consumers from purchasing these compounds (many under the brand name d-Con) from hardware, convenience, grocery, and other stores. The active ingredients in SGARS are Brodifacoum, Bromadiolone, Difenacoum, and Difethialone. DPR’s review of these products is available here.

While RATS and its partners are thrilled that DPR has taken the critical step of banning over-the-counter sales of these poisons, many threats remain to California wildlife and pets from rodenticides.

Unfortunately, the new regs do not apply to pest control companies, which will still be allowed to use SGARs. As I’ve written before, innocuous looking silver-and-black “bait boxes” containing SGARs can be found all around cities and suburbs. You’ve probably seen the big pest control company trucks in your neighborhood. They place the tidy little boxes around houses and businesses — and it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” But bait boxes are not like the roach “motels,” where the bugs “check in and don’t check out.” With bait boxes, rodents check in, eat the poisoned bait, and then “check out” again, like little toxic time bombs. The poisoned rodents can then be eaten by other animals and end up poisoning other animals and birds farther up the food chain, including pets like cats and dogs.

Rat poison is not just an urban problem. In remote forested areas of Northern California, for instance, many marijuana growers use rat poison to prevent wildlife from eating their plants. The California fisher, a native carnivore in the weasel family that is a candidate for endangered species listing, may well be wiped out if these poisons continue to be used. Same with the federally endangered San Joaquin kit foxes. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has 800 pages of records of wildlife harmed by rat poison throughout the state. Victims include almost every species of hawk and owl, the California fishers and kit foxes, as well as skunks, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and many other mammals. Growers will still be able to obtain large supplies of these poisons at ag and feed stores, providing they are purchased by a licensed operator. But who will be checking?

The other issue is that some people may try to circumvent the restrictions by purchasing SGARs online, or use other problem poisons instead. One such poison is Diphacinone, a first generation anticoagulant that has proven very toxic to birds and other mammals. It is still being widely used, and DPR did not include it in the new regulations.

RATS urges people to use non-toxic products to control rodents, including snap traps or products like the “Raticator,” and to hire pest control companies that do not use poison. Please do not use glue traps as an alternative. They are inhumane and small birds and even small owls, among other animals, have become stuck to them. Clean up bird seed and chicken feed; remove ivy, which rats love, and consider planting natives, which provide better habitat for native species.

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