Some residents in the Hillcrest area of Salmon Arm have been trying to get rid of unwanted rats. (Pixabay)

Rats rear their pointy heads around the Interior

City joins neighbouring B.C. Interior communities coping with repellent rodents

The pitter patter of little feet is creating consternation for some Salmon Arm residents.

Sylvia Martin lives in the Hillcrest neighbourhood on 18th Street SE. She says rats are a growing problem in the city.

“I think part of the problem for Salmon Arm is people are in the dark; they don’t realize there’s an issue. A lot of people aren’t seeing them.”

Sylvia and her spouse Claude hired a trapper to rid their property of the rodents, which she thinks are being attracted by the alluring scent of neighbours’ backyard composters. The Martins began trapping rats in July and managed to confine them to one area of their woodpile, yet still this week they caught three. Sylvia says she’s taken down her birdfeeders, also an attractant. She’s heard rumours of rats in other parts of the city and would like to know what can be done to eradicate them.

“Nobody wants to see a mouse, but rats – they’re just gross.”

Along with the Martins, Rod Schumacher, also a Hillcrest resident, has written to city council, hoping the city can do something while the number of rats is still relatively small. Mayor Alan Harrison asked that it be put on the agenda in six weeks, so council would have time to consult with other municipalities at the Union of BC Municipalities convention.

At Buckerfield’s in Salmon Arm, rat chat is common. Alyssa Zettergreen says staff were just having a conversation about the rodents before being contacted by the Observer because someone was asking if the city is going to do anything about them.

The store has seen sales of rat traps and poison increasing.

“Last year we definitely did not hear a lot about rats – more mice, but this year we’re hearing more about rats.”

Although the rat problem appears to be relatively new to Salmon Arm, the long-tailed creatures have been rearing their pointy heads in other parts of the Interior for a while.

Rats around the Interior

A pest control company, Orkin, keeps track of its rodent (mice and rat) treatments per year per city, so larger centres figure prominently. In 2018, Vancouver was number 1, with Kelowna 7 and Kamloops 14.

In Revelstoke, 2015 and 2016 were vintage years for vermin proliferation. Because the city was receiving a lot of complaints and demands for action, it struck up a partnership with Interior Health to provide education, explains interim city administrator Dawn Low.

A health nurse was invited to give a presentation to city council, which packed council chambers. As a follow-up, an evening session was held at the community centre.

“The public responded to it really well. They really appreciated the information,” Low says.

She didn’t go so far as to say the rodents are gone, but noted no complaints have been heard in the last couple of years.

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In Vernon, Geoff Gaucher, manager of protective services, says there are rats in Vernon as there are everywhere in the province. He says milder winters of late are helping keep the species healthy.

However, rats in the city appear to be decreasing, especially when food sources like bird seed and cat food are being removed. He estimates he gets about 10 email rat complaints a year, plus one or two about marmots.

Similar to other municipalities, Vernon does not have a bylaw that encompasses wildlife, and rats are considered wildlife. The provincial government publishes material on what property owners can do, as rats are considered a homeowner’s responsibility.

Gaucher says there’s a stigma around rats – that they’re only attracted to dirty properties, but it’s not true. One person called him to complain about rats at a home with an immaculate yard. That’s because it was one with a source of water and food – a fountain and a bird feeder.

At the Regional District of Central Okanagan, which encompasses Kelowna and West Kelowna, communications officer Bruce Smith says rat complaints have been ongoing for a number of years and tend to be cyclical, escalating and then dropping off.

The regional district doesn’t provide services, but refers people to pest control companies or HealthLink BC. It does sell composting units and encourages residents to compost properly.

WildSafe BC is a source of information about all things rat. For instance, a pair of rats could theoretically produce more than 900 offspring within a single year. Rats are not native to B.C. and can devour crops, threaten ground-nesting birds and spread disease.

In Penticton, communications manager Philip Cooper says he’s not aware of any rat issues, although the city has a brochure on rat prevention.

“We have more complaints about deer recently than we do about rats.”

Cooper does have a personal rat story. He lives in Summerland and has to take his vehicle to be repaired next week. Although the two most common rats in the Interior are Norway and roof rats, what’s been identified as a pack rat crawled up into his engine and chewed through wires before making a bed of sorts with various debris, including a piece of cactus, on the gasket covers. Engine lights are now on permanently and the thermometer thinks its minus-40 Celsius outside. The chewing on wires is apparently common for rats, according to ICBC.

@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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Rats have moved inland from the Coast and warmer winters may be helping them survive. (File photo)

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