A ‘rat rebate’ is coming to Peel Region
Small meetups in public parks or backyards were billed a safer way to see friends this summer as the COVID-19 pandemic brought to a stop most indoor gatherings.
For some Mississauga residents, these casual encounters have been increasingly interrupted by unwelcome guests: rats.
A yearlong pilot program managed by the Region of Peel could change that.
The new pest control subsidy and monitoring strategy, approved by Regional Council on Oct. 8, promises a streamlined solution for frustrated residents who have been paying out-of-pocket to fix a problem they believe the City had a hand in creating.
Rats are being spotted more often in some Mississauga neighbourhoods
“These people really suffered, in the sense that you can’t enjoy your backyard, you’re seeing these creatures that you have to…pay an exterminator to get rid of,” said Athina Tagidou, of the Applewood Hills and Heights Residents’ Association. Those who complained were redirected to City and Regional offices, only to be told, “the rat is on your property, it’s your problem,” Tagidou said.
In the last three years, just over half of the 330 rat-related complaints received by the region were from Mississauga.
Rodent control expert Bobby Corrigan says the root causes of infestations have to be addressed
Tagidou and the residents’ association spearheaded a community initiative to document the rat problem – which locals believe is worse due to construction in the area – and raise it with their councillors. A motion to create a subsidy program, brought forward by Mississauga Councillors Chris Fonseca and Stephen Dasko, was first introduced last month.
The rat rebate will offer a 50 percent subsidy for residents, up to a maximum $200 per year, and help cover the cost of pest control measures around their home. Half of the $500,000-project’s cost is earmarked for the rebate, and the remainder will cover staffing and resources for a regional pest management strategy and abatement measures at construction sites.
Staff are still reviewing the capital funding breakdown for the project, Fonseca said in an interview.
“I'm very happy with the outcome,” she said, crediting Applewood residents for bringing the issue to her attention. “The rebate program goes hand-in-hand with an integrated pest management program to ensure…control and mitigation of the rats in the long-term.”
Rat problem is widespread
Four other municipalities – Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Welland and Fort Erie – offer similar rebates that came into effect in recent years, while Windsor runs a City-led extermination program developed over two decades. Toronto and Sault Ste. Marie cancelled pest subsidy programs.
Bobby Corrigan, an urban rodent expert who has worked on pest containment in cities including New York, told councillors that the longevity of this program will depend on managing the root causes of pest infestations.
“Without that, your subsidy program is just going to appear on paper. That's all. As if, quote ‘we're doing something’,” said Corrigan, who has been retained to consult on the project.
This translates to hiring experts, creating local partnerships and continued monitoring of how climate change affects mammal behaviours. Corrigan underscored that rats do not hibernate, and milder winters linked to climate change are increasing the time rats have to reproduce during the year, which can contribute to higher populations.
Peel Public Health has named climate change a threat to its residents’ health due to the potential for vector-borne diseases carried by certain pests.
The pandemic is also dictating where rats move.
Abrupt restaurant closures and reduced patronage caused by COVID-19 safety restrictions, means that rats have less garbage scraps to feed on and will migrate to other areas where they can find food.
Restaurant closures could be pushing more rats to residential areas
Pest control company Orkin Canada saw a 20 percent hike in calls for rat exterminations earlier in the pandemic. The increase does not necessarily reflect a larger number of rats overall, but in the volume of calls to locations where rats have relocated, said Dale Kurt, a GTA regional manager at Orkin.
“We were getting a lot of calls from [people in] residential areas who say they lived there for 20 years and never ever saw a rat, and suddenly now, they have them in abundance around their home,” said Kurt.
Some U.S. cities, including Boston and Chicago, have used dry ice – carbon dioxide in solid form – to kill rats as a cheaper and less dangerous alternative to other chemical pesticides, but Kurt said this method is not approved in Canada. (Health Canada is responsible for registering pesticides.)
Integrated in the urban fabric of cities
Rats have been called the “invisible rodent” because they can be difficult to detect. But this is not for a lack of reproducing: two rats can have more than 6,000 babies in their lifetime, according to American-based animal control company U.S. Pest Protection.
Historians often blamed rats as the carriers of disease in the outbreak of plagues, like the Black Death that killed millions during the 14th century. Then the theory arose that the fleas on the rats were the real transmitters. But today, both theories are disputed. A 2017 study by researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at three possible models for infection leading to disease spread: rats, airborne transmission, and fleas and ticks that humans carry around with them on their bodies and clothes. The findings suggested human spread including through fleas and lice commonly found on the body, was the most likely cause of various historical plagues.
Rats have become so integrated into the urban fabric of cities across North America that it’s easy to forget these destructive animals do not belong here. The two types most common to Canada — Black and Brown rats — are an invasive species. Rats are on the list of the 100 most invasive and alien species in the world, according to the Global Invasive Species Database.
Fiscally responsible solutions to invasive species management will become more pressing as climate change and development projects continue to impact natural heritage systems across Peel.
But financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have City coffers running low. Mississauga has already proposed reducing its contributions to the Emerald ash borer reserve. It’s used to fund pest control on the invasive beetle, but a possible $2-million cut this year to help cover the City’s budget deficit will mean more beetles will get to feed on vulnerable ash trees. Brampton funded a similar program to the tune of $1.7 million this year, but it is yet unclear whether councillors there will commit to that same amount listed in its capital budget for 2021, and $3.7 million projected for 2022.
Mississauga’s ongoing Gypsy Moth program is also running on an average $83,200 operating cost per year, according to data provided by the City, with the next major aerial spray scheduled for 2027 and budgeted at $1.6 million.
The City marked a “major victory in a long fought battle,” Mayor Bonnie Crombie announced in July, against another invasive species found in 2013, the Asian Long-horned Beetle. The City spent about $443,000 over six years to eradicate it, with about $350,000 of the cost reimbursed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Now, staff in Peel will turn their attention to projecting costs for maintaining a rat control program and subsidy. An operating budget proposed to council puts estimates for the program at between $3.4 and $3.9 million for the Region per year, over the next two years.
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