Sterling HeightsJuly 31, 2012
Residents wrangle with rats
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
STERLING HEIGHTS — When rats began gnawing through garbage bags in his neighborhood, Bruce Witt thought religiously closing his trashcan tops would help solve the problem.
“That’ll definitely keep them out of the garbage … unless they eat the lid,” said Witt, recalling how, last summer, the persistent rodents chewed a 4-inch-square hole — “big enough to put my fist in it” — in his hard plastic refuse container.
Witt isn’t the only Sterling Heights resident with rat tales. City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the Department of Public Works, through a contractor, is working to combat a spike in the rat population on the city’s southwest side.
“We’ve definitely had a number of complaints that led us to taking a real close look at the concerns, meeting with residents, retaining a contractor to do the canvassing,” he said. “Unfortunately, these are things cities have to deal with periodically. You can’t solve these problems overnight. It takes canvassing and identifying the scope of the problem first.”
The city has commissioned Clinton Township-based Landscape Services to distribute rat-targeting bait boxes in the affected area — generally, 14 Mile to 15 Mile, Dequindre to Ryan — and crews will be circling back to evaluate progress, said Vanderpool.
“Over the years, we’ve had flare-ups now and then,” he said, “and we’ve addressed them in this manner.”
A few factors
The recent resurgence likely stemmed from a “convergence of conditions,” said Vanderpool.
“One factor, we believe, is the incredibly mild winter we had last year,” he said. “This seems to have exacerbated some of the issues such as this. It’s not just rats; it’s other rodents, squirrels and the like — there just seems to be a larger population.”
The area already is hospitable for rodents due to its proximity to a drain, a natural habitat, he said, but residents may unwittingly contribute by putting out birdseed and deer feed, or maintaining woodpiles, sheds or other yard features that appeal to rats.
Two major Warren Consolidated Schools demolition projects may also be disrupting nearby rodent habitats, prompting relocation, said Vanderpool.
Crews recently began razing the former Fuhrmann Middle School, on 14 Mile, east of Ryan, and the Warner Educational Center, off of 15 Mile, between Ryan and Dequindre.
“Not that there was a rodent problem at any one of those schools, but it could be that the demolition activity … maybe caused some of the burrows and so on to spread into the residential areas,” said Vanderpool, and WCS spokesman Robert Freehan agreed that wouldn’t be unusual for such construction projects to disrupt animals in the area.
Freehan said the district opted to demolish the buildings because they were largely unused, but had steep upkeep costs. Tearing them down also eliminates their ability to become havens for rodents or otherwise hazardous to the community, he said.
WCS eventually plans to sell the land, he said, but will keep the property mowed and maintained until then.
‘They’re not afraid of anything’
Witt said the scope of the problem in his subdivision, near 14 Mile and Ryan, became clear in 2010, when his neighbor discovered that rats — not rabbits, as originally suspected — were rooting through her garden.
“I think she had killed 13 when she stopped trying to kill them and just took her garden out,” he said.
Earlier that summer, Witt spotted animals in his yard that he initially thought were field mice. “Then I saw how big a couple of them were, and I thought, ‘That’s not a mouse,’” he said.
Witt thinks open Dumpsters at a nearby apartment complex are perpetuating the problem. He put out his own poison, but they were back the next summer, leading to the epic garbage can debacle.
He hasn’t seen any this year, but set traps as a precaution after his friend Sharon Ouvry, who lives near 15 Mile and Ryan, told him she’d started spotting rats in her yard around Memorial Day.
“If they’re coming back,” he said, “I want them dead, quick.”
From her kitchen window, Ouvry said, she could see rats frolicking through her landscaping.
“We were infested with them,” she said. “There’d be five or six of them running around in the evening and in the morning. We were shocked at how huge they were. They were at least 6 inches.”
While she’s stopped stocking a bird feeder, Ouvry said she’s otherwise perplexed by the rats’ presence. She and her neighbors have well-manicured yards, she said, and their garbage is stored properly.
She and her husband have trapped some of the rats. They found one floating in their backyard pond. Others have been burrowing under the deck.
After she complained to the city in mid-June, the contractor put out bait boxes on her property, but workers told her that it could take weeks to lure the rats because they’re initially leery of any new addition to their environment, she said.
“And in a month, how many more rats can they multiply?” she said.
Ouvry said crews returning in July told her it didn’t appear the rats were eating the poison; meanwhile, she began putting out her own.
“Yes, the problem is getting better,” she said in late July, “but no, the problem is not solved.”
Dawn Hill, who lives near 14 Mile and Dequindre, said she “freaked out” upon observing the first rat in her yard last spring. Then, during the winter, they were burrowing beneath her deck.
This summer, she said, she tried to bait them with bread and shoot them with a BB gun. When that failed, she put out peanut butter-smeared plastic traps, similar to mouse traps, but larger. She caught two rats the week of July 23 alone before squirrels chewed up the traps, forcing her to buy new ones.
“They’re so easygoing that they’re running around like they’re squirrels,” said Hill. “I think it’s getting better now, but they’re not afraid of anything. That’s the problem. They act like they’re just regular animals.”
Sterling Heights residents who discover rats in their yards can call the Department of Public Works at (586) 446-2440.
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