Napa County’s look at rodent bait stations in the airport industrial area found violations that didn’t warrant penalties and no proof that poisons are harming wildlife, though officials said this is a legitimate concern.
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Changes are happening following the citizen-requested investigation. The county, which does 250 to 300 pesticide-use field inspections annually, announced it will do more to ensure already-placed rodent bait stations comply with state laws.
In addition, the county will increase outreach and education with pest control companies. That will include looking at best practices and promoting non-chemical rodent control methods.
“This investigation provided us the opportunity to look at this particular issue in a different way,” county Agricultural Commissioner Tracy Cleveland said.
Resident Yvonne Baginski and the Napa Sierra Club early this year asked the county to investigate the matter. Baginski had noticed small, metal bait stations by the dozens around warehouses in the south county industrial area near a creek and wetlands.
Hundreds of endangered bats that lent gothic character to the St. Helena Public Cemetery and played a vital role in its ecosystem are dead after possibly being poisoned.
She fears that hawks and other wildlife could die after eating rodents poisoned by the bait stations.
The county Agricultural Commissioner’s office inspected 380 bait stations on 388 acres in the airport industrial area and found about 100 had such issues as being improperly marked. It found 60 abandoned and empty stations. It required businesses to correct the problems.
Inspectors found no evidence of wildlife being killed by eating poisoned rodents. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has not reported any recent non-target wildlife poisonings from Napa County, the recently-released investigation report said.
The investigation didn’t link poisoned bait stations to any hawk population declines. Given such factors as habitat loss and drought, a study by a state or federal agency would likely be needed to prove any correlation, the report said.
Baginski said these findings don’t mean secondary poisonings aren’t happening. To prove a poisoning case, a carcass must be autopsied by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Most people who find a carcass don’t report it. Also, birds fly distances from where they might have been poisoned, she said.
Responding to these concerns, the Agricultural Commissioner’s office has initiated their own internal investigation, but at this point, don’t have much official information to report.
She reported a dead hawk on Orchard Avenue north of the city of Napa to Fish and Wildlife, Baginski said.
“I have no idea whether they went out, or if they did and the hawk was gone or whatever,” she said. “How would we ever know how it died?”
Businesses involving food are required by federal laws to control pests at their facilities. The most common chemical control method used is rodenticide-treated bait and the practice will probably continue for the foreseeable future, the county Agricultural Commissioner’s office report said.
California in the Ecosystems Protection Act of 2020 restricted the use of certain rodenticides linked to harming mountain lions, owls and other wildlife. These "second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides” are largely prohibited, though they can be used in certain settings involving food.
The county found two locations using these poisons and both fell under the exemption. Most pest control companies no longer use these poisons, the county report said.
The beaver colony on Tulocay Creek, just off busy Soscol Avenue, has friends in high places.
Still, accidental wildlife poisoning risk is a legitimate concern, the county investigation report said.
A Senate analysis for the Ecosystems Protection Act of 2020 said the same thing. A statewide ban on certain poisons would be expected to reduce wildlife exposures, it said.
“However, the importance of appropriate tools for vector control (including rodents) should not be dismissed, especially in urban settings where conditions may support rodent proliferations and associated disease outbreak,” state Senate bill analysis said.
The Napa Sierra Club appreciates the county agreeing to do more rodenticide-use inspections and take appropriate compliance/enforcement actions, the group said in a statement to the Napa Valley Register.
“The (report) on the investigation showed that we were right to have been concerned about the way traps are distributed, labeled and maintained,” the Sierra Club said in an email.
These traps remain legal if used in ways that meet state laws. But Baginski said filing a complaint with the county Agricultural Commissioner’s office has had an effect.
“I think it raised the consciousness,” Baginski said. “No one had ever brought any of this to their attention.”
She said an alternative to using bait stations for rats is snap traps.
Baginski likes to walk on a path along Sheehy Creek in the airport industrial area. She sees such wildlife as herons, beavers and wild turkeys. She also sees the warehouses and the bait stations.
“The problem is these bait stations are being put in wildlife areas,” Baginski said. “These are traditional wildlife areas.”
Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.