November 2, 2020
Rooftop rats, named for the ease with which they climb, are the primary rodent pest on Kiawah Island.
CLEMSON, SC – Throughout history, humans have tried to strike a delicate balance between their needs and those of nature. Rats make the problem much more difficult.
That’s why the State Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) recently formed SGA Rodenticide Task Force in South Carolina is trying to strike the balance between the poor wildlife population along the rapidly developing coast of South Carolina and concerns about the human health of South Carolina offset the deadly diseases – like plague, hantavirus, or rat bite fever – that rodents spread.
The task force brings together the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), science researchers from Clemson University, local officials and the pest control industry. It is tasked with researching and developing strategies to combat rodent populations on Kiawah Island and the simultaneous loss of several of the island’s famous bobcats, some of which have shown traces of rat poison in their systems.
“Our goal is to continue to monitor rodent control and the effects of second generation rodenticides on Kiawah and to investigate progress made there,” said Steve Cole, director of regulatory services at Clemson, who manages the DPR and other state regulators . “Hard data is essential, so we are fortunate to have the help of all parties involved, from local and state authorities as well as pest control companies, to investigate all sides of the problem.”
In the 1950s, anticoagulants, which prevent blood clotting, were used in rodenticides. A second generation of anticoagulants, called SGAs, was developed in the 1970s and was found to be faster and more effective. Since then, they have been used internationally to control rodents.
However, when biologists found traces of SGAs in some Kiawah bobcats known to feed on rats, the discovery sparked concern that the chemicals posed a threat to feline predators.
According to the DPR, nine companies process more than 90 percent of the pest control contracts on Kiawah. These and other smaller companies have already started adopting a type of control known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which uses a variety of control methods, many of which contain no chemicals at all. An online training course for pest control companies conducted by Clemson in August provided 50 attendees with an arsenal of IPM techniques.
“I think we are absolutely on the right track when we look at wildlife on Kiawah,” said Jim Wright, executive director of the South Carolina Pest Control Association (SCPCA). “We are very grateful that the DPR has set up this task force to focus on rodent control in this part of our state. This ensures an unbiased collection of information and effective communication of rodent control sensitivity with pest control professionals. “
Support from DNR wildlife officials and Clemson scientists such as toxicologist Thomas Rainwater of the Barson Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Sciences in Georgetown, Clemson is a welcome addition, said Mike Weyman, assistant director of Clemson’s Regulatory Services who heads the DPR.
“This is a complex problem and we need data to address it effectively,” said Weyman. “DNR is now mapping the island and determining where to use traps. We are conducting a blind survey of the 74 licensed pest control companies on Kiawah to see how many SGAs have been used over the past year. “
“SGAs are used because they work. They’re a crucial arrow in the quiver for pest fighters, ”he said. “In a restaurant or a grocery store, the threshold for a rat is zero. They have no choice. A falling rat will turn them off. You need to use the best product available. Public safety matters. The most important thing now is that the task force collects accurate data and shares the facts with everyone involved so that we can make joint decisions. “
Wildlife may not read the data, but they are among the most involved parties, said Emily Cope, assistant director of wildlife and freshwater fisheries at DNR, whose agency has experience dealing with the complex issues posed by a wildlife threat in South Carolina occur their habitats.
“We appreciate the opportunity to further investigate the potential impact of rodenticides on wildlife in Kiawah,” said Cope. “We are grateful to have the support of Clemson and Kiawah Island on this project. We all have the same end goals. “
The main goal is the centuries-old balance between the needs of man and the needs of nature. This will ensure that Kiawah Island visitors and residents can be protected from dangerous pests as it continues to develop, while protecting the remaining wildlife and their habitat.
“This task force is another step forward to address the bigger picture,” Wright said. “The SCPCA agrees that the pest control industry can voluntarily reduce the use of these products. We are determined to help solve the problem and are more than ready to be part of the solution. “
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