7 in 10 Endangered Spotted Owls Exposed to Rat Poison, Retail Ban Insufficient

In 2014, the State of California banned the rat poison that had been increasingly causing sickness and death in wild animals, second generation anti-coagulant rodenticides (SGARs), sold in retail stores as D-con. Although the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had submitted an opinion that the rodenticide needed to be more tightly regulated, it still took 3 years to get the toxin off the shelves of neighborhood stores. However, the ban was not total. Commercial applicators and farmers can still buy and use this poison – and they do.

Killing rats with a slow acting poison, as it turns out, is a very effective way to spread poison through an ecosystem. Rats sick and dying from ingesting rodenticide are caught by wild predators – raccoons, bobcats, mountain lions, eagles, hawks, weasels, – anyone who eats rodents.

Now a newly published study shows that 70% of Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis) on the North Coast, in the heart of the coastal range forests, where cannabis cultivation has punched holes and created edges, tested positive for rodenticide exposure. Unfortunately, this means that our region is now close to par with the rest of California. An ongoing study in the San Francisco Bay Area undertaken by Wildcare in Marin County has found 83% (updated) of all wildlife tested to be exposed to SGARs. No doubt similar numbers are found in other states and nations.

The world is poisoned. It has been for a long time. From the the first coal mines of Appalachia through the daily spew of burned gasoline and pesticides and even radiation from Fukushima’s ongoing catastrophe, civilization has brought its poisons everywhere it expands. If our civilization lasts to colonize Mars it will bring its poisons there too. From plastics in the oceans to radioactive isotopes in milk, this news is old.

The solutions to humane and effective rodent control are many and require some thought and effort. Thought and effort are exactly what use of poisons seeks to avoid. The impacts to our world from such short-cut seeking are obvious and staggering. Still, the solutions aren’t that difficult. First, conflicts with wild animals, even non-native wild animals like Norway rats, are almost always created by a human housekeeping issue. Feeding pets outdoors, unprotected food storage, unprotected compost bins that aren’t rat-proofed, materials and debris piles around outbuildings, and more all contribute to rodent problems. Good housekeeping solves a lot of the problem. Putting up an owl box can also be useful. Encouraging raptors in your area will also help. Barn owls, Great-horned owls, Red-tailed hawks and others eat rodents for a living! If you have a problem with rats, there are myriad humane and ecologically sound resources available. (see below for resources that can help)

It’s an old formula and in many ways it’s still true: the solution to pollution is dilution. Other measures might be useful to get rodenticides out of our ecosystem, out of of the wild, out of our wild neighbors. Hopefully the legalization of cannabis in California will bring cannabis agriculture into the regulatory process. Maybe legalization will lead to the migration of cannabis agriculture out of remote wildlands and away from sensitive species such as the Pacific Fisher (Martes pennanti)and the Northern Spotted Owl, an icon of the struggle to preserve the Redwoods and the temperate rainforest to our north. But even if that happens, those measures do nothing to dilute the pollutant – to reduce the number of animals exposed to this poison.

Submission to regulatory review isn’t enough. The rat poison put out by a worker at a vineyard in Napa or Sonoma counties is likely legal. When vast swaths of our world are taken over by industrial agriculture, we cannot simply allow that land, its waters, its life, to become a sacrifice zone. If we are serious about diluting rat poison out of our environment, we need to stop producing it. We need to cease manufacture and sales of these poisons.

Update: In 2017, a leader in the effort to rid our shared world of these poisons, Raptors Are the Solution (RATS), worked with California Assembly member Richard Bloom, whose district (50) includes Santa Monica, Malibu, Topanga, West Los Angeles and Pacific Palisades, to bring a bill (AS-1687) forward that would complete the ban of SGARs in our state. It is currently stalled in the Assembly committee, Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials (ETSM). The bill as it is currently written would ban all use of SGARs except

 (1)  This section does not apply to the use of pesticides for agricultural activities, as defined in Section 564. … “agricultural activities” include activities conducted in any of the following locations:

(A) Warehouses used to store foods for human or animal consumption.
(B) Agricultural food production sites, including, but not limited to, slaughterhouses and canneries.
(C) Factories, breweries, wineries, or any other location where rodent or pest populations need to be controlled for food safety or agricultural purposes.

At the time of writing it is unknown if the bill will make it out of committee in time for this legislative year. If it does, we’ll keep you posted on actions that you can take to support its passage. For now, we are working to build strong support here on the North Coast, where we treasure our wildlands and wild neighbors, to eliminate these toxins from our shared world, our wild mother.

Want to help? One, contact your representative in the Assembly and let them know that you stand with our wild neighbors and want second generation anti-coagulant poisons fully banned. Here in the second district, you can send a message to our Assemblymember, Jim Wood. Two, help us build support here, in the heart of the Redwoods, where the Spotted Owls for too long has served as a bellwether of the costs our forests and forest communities pay for harmful human practices. You can become intimately involved with protecting our wild neighbors by volunteering at HWCC.

You can help us care for wild animals impacted by the toxins of a human built world, as well as advocate on behalf of our wild neighbors. Please donate today! Thank you!

In the Humboldt area and looking for advice on a local problem? call our clinic 707 822 8839. We can help!

Raptors Are The Solution (RATS) has a great web page with tips and links.


The Hungry Owl Project also has good information, especially regarding encouraging owls to nest in your area.