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Posted on: August 3, 2022

Town’s Efforts to Coordinate and Improve Rodent Control in Brookline

To:

Town of Brookline Select Board, Elected Officials & Residents

From: 

Sigalle Reiss, Director of Public Health & Human Services

Erin Chute Gallentine, Commissioner of Public Works

CC: 

Mel Kleckner, Town Administrator

Date:

August 1, 2022

Re:

Communication Regarding Town’s Efforts to Coordinate and Improve Rodent Control in Brookline

Many town officials and staff have heard concerns from residents regarding an increase in rodent activity in Brookline. We appreciate residents’ frustration in, not only the increase of rodent activity, but also the sighting of rodents in areas of town with formerly little observed activity. Town staff are reporting and responding to these changed conditions as well.   And, Brookline is not alone.  These trends have been documented in many of our neighboring communities and in cities nationwide, as described in the recent WBUR article[i].  

 

Rodents are highly adaptive and changed their behavior during the pandemic to find new harborage and food sources. During the pandemic restaurants and other commercial establishments closed or had reduced service to help limit the spread of COVID-19.  Community wide closures led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas.  This caused the populations to spread to more residential locations.  With an initial decrease in food source, rodents were very active in their search for food leading to an increase in sighting.  However, human behavior soon changed as well.   With the prolonged restrictions on masking and social distancing; outdoor meals became the norm at home, in parks and at the schools.  This change lead to a tremendous increase in food waste and trash coupled with an increase in litter.  This behavior and impact was noted nationwide.  Many of our resident stewards were not willing to pick-up others trash, as they may have done in the past, for fear of contracting the disease.   With activity increasing again at many of our food service establishments, and the addition of outdoor dining in the commercial areas, (along with other contributing factors) many cities are seeing notable increases in rodent activity. 

 

In order to combat these increases, Town Departments have taken aggressive actions, including shutting down construction sites where violations were observed, treating public property aggressively with the same carbon monoxide system used in Boston and described in the linked article above, eliminating burrows, closing down areas where outdoor dining cannot be maintained in a clean and sanitary manner, pruning vegetation, issuing citations for commercial and residential properties for improperly stored trash/recycling, and improperly maintained properties that provide food and harborage for rodents.   

 

The Health Department has responded to 113 rodent complaints to date in 2022, compared to a total of 140 in 2021 and 108 in 2020. 

 

Reports of rodent activity at particular properties has led to inspections at sites in the vicinity.  We have identified several hotspots in Town where there are multiple properties contributing to the rodent activity. These include businesses, large commercial and residential locations, construction sites, as well as public open spaces. While the town can treat and manage trash and debris in public spaces, private owners and residents need to also manage their property to effectively address these areas. For example, outdoor dining areas need to have regular treatment and monitoring for pest control as well as proper food disposal and cleaning of the areas where food is served.  

 

In addition, the Health Department has worked to improve communication to and from the Town regarding rodent activity in order to help residents file complaints and to inform the public on critical prevention measures. A Rat Reports email (RatReports@brooklinema.gov) and phone extension (617-730-2308) were set up to deal solely with rodent issues. Health Department administrative staff receive and log complaints, assign complaints to an inspector in the Environmental Health Division, then ensure all applicable departments are notified.  Prevention and educational materials have been posted on social media sites, the Town website and issued in press releases. 

 

It should be noted that for the past two years Town staff has had to shift resources and focus from regular departmental functions to support the community through the pandemic.   At this time, there is new leadership and technical staff in many of the key departments and roles.  A great deal of work and response has happened to address rodent activity, however, the Town is reconvening a multi-department Rodent Task Force to coordinate efforts, best practices, streamline communication, and maximize results. The Task Force met in July and includes staff from Health, Public Works, Building, Parks & Open Space, Economic and Community Development and the School Departments. Enforcing and responding to rodent complaints ad identified hotspots include responses from each of these Departments and various Divisions.  

 

The Task Force will meet monthly to coordinate multi-departmental response to complaints and identified hotspots, to discuss best practices, and to evaluate and plan for community-wide solutions. One of the first priorities is the development of standard operating procedures to clearly define roles and responsibilities of each department and to outline pathways of communication both internally and externally.  Our second step will be to research and evaluate measures we can take community wide to reduce rodent activity, including engage with community stakeholders, such as local businesses, researching efforts in other communities, and speaking to pest control professionals. 

 

Rodent populations have adapted well to living around people.  Where ever there are people, there is food, water, and harborage for rodents.  Rats most often become pests when people mismanage trash and food waste, provide easy access to food and water, allow entry inside buildings/structures and practice poor sanitation.  Rodent management takes a collective effort. Contractors, business owners, restaurants, schools, Town Departments, residents all need to work together to help control rodent populations in urban areas.  Everyone needs to be aware of their roles and responsibilities.   The Task Force will enable the departments to coordinate response actions, discuss best practices and emerging technologies, develop communication and review management strategies to better serve the community regarding rodent control. We will continue to investigate all complaints that are filed with our departments and take necessary action to educate and enforce Town regulations in support of more effective rodent control.  Thank you for your time and attention to this matter and please feel free to contact either one of us with any questions. 

 

[i] https://www.wbur.org/news/2022/07/25/pandemic-rats-rodents-somerville-boston-kill

 

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