Environment
8:47 am
Fri March 28, 2014

Spring Clean Up in Milwaukee Targets Rats

City inspector Ken Kenitz checks what may be an abandoned rat colony dug into a small mound on a vacant lot.
Credit Bob Bach
Milwaukee's Dept. of Neighborhood Services makes a special effort this time of year to combat rats energized by warmer temperatures.

The city of Milwaukee has started its annual spring-cleaning and is urging residents to pick up trash, excess bird feed and pet waste.

Melting ice and snow and reveal all sorts of items underneath that can lure rodents, and they reproduce rapidly.

City Inspector Ken Kenitz looks for rat activity in neighborhoods, after residents report it. He uses a stick with a small garden shovel attached to one end to probe for rat activity, as well as to bait active burrows with poison.

Rats must ingest a small amount of poison in order for it to be effective.

Inspectors also tell residents how to make their properties unattractive to rodents, according to Don Schaewe.

He oversees the city’s rat removal efforts for the Dept. of Neighborhood Services.

Schaewe says the problem is not always garbage.

“Bird feeding, people who are bird feeding and let that waste food hit the ground, that’s a big contributor. But, a real big one that people don’t think of is, not collecting their dog waste in time. Although that might sound gross to the average person, dog waste is a protein source for rats.” Schaewe says.

I asked him why it’s important to get rid of rats.

“Rats are a vector of disease and we just need to knock their populations as best we can. We use various rodenticides approved by the EPA to bait into rodent burrows when we think that it is an effective means of eradication,” Schoewe says.

He says rats are great diggers and usually don’t travel far for food, if possible.

Inspectors say rats like to burrow into retaining walls through entrance holes such as this one at the base of the stone.

“They will burrow up against garages, generally not out in the open, but they will burrow in bushes and the like, and what we are looking for, are holes about the size of a small orange. A lot of people think that rats are these tremendously big animals, and when cornered certainly they can plump up their guard hairs and look a lot bigger than they are, but the average rat, is about three-quarters of a pound so they’re pretty small little animals. They’ll go as far as they need to for a food source, or a water source, but when they’re in their home range we think they go about 25 feet to their food source and that’s about it,”  Schaewe says.