Boston rat rampage

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  November 9, 2009

IPM aligns city agencies in their common anti-rodent struggle: sanitation engineers keep tabs on rubbish; parking enforcers ensure that sanitation workers can do their jobs; ISD workers keep detailed records on rat complaints; etc. Most important, Colvin stressed the need to retreat from reactive tactics. In 2002, he told then-Phoenix reporter Chris Wright: “If we just kill the rats, re-infestation occurs. If we don’t change the environment [and] get rid of the food sources, the reproduction rate will actually be greater, because there’s no competition. If you just kill a bunch of rats, three to six months later the rats will re-colonize in greater numbers. Long-term management is needed.”

In the mid to late ’90s — amid the surge in Boston’s anti-rat crusade — project management designated 10 full-time employees for pest control (in addition to ISD’s 15 city employees, whose work overlapped), and was, at least statistically, successful. Yet, even after results were such that several other large metropolises adopted the Boston Plan, Colvin was laid off by the Central Artery Project in 1999. Subsequently, the trimming and disbanding of the rodent task force as a cost-cutting measure had immediate negative results. In 2001, with just three Big Dig rat-mitigation specialists remaining, the number of complaints to ISD jumped to 928, up 40 percent from the previous year. By 2007, that tally reached 1675 — nearly the amount reported at the height of Central Artery construction in 1995. (ISD spokespeople claim that complaints have increased since they began actively requesting that people report rodent sightings.)

YUCK ET VERITAS: Many Allston residents point to Harvard, and the school’s pending construction work in the neighborhood, as the leading cause for the uptick in rat populations. The school is about to unleash a year-in-the-making plan to provide local residents with sanitary trash containers designed to curb the rodent problem.

Communities at war
At Columbus Day festivities on Hanover Street this past month, then-mayoral contenders Tom Menino and Michael Flaherty were swarmed by North End residents pleading for rat relief. The widespread perception that pest control was a major concern did not go unnoticed by Boston Globe correspondent Emma Stickgold, who asked the candidates about an apparent rodent influx in Boston’s Italian corner — a problem that Menino said he was unaware existed, and that Flaherty immediately co-opted as a campaign issue. The then–city councilor petitioned to obtain ISD’s most recent reporting statistics, but, like the Phoenix, was unable to attain recent numbers from ISD until the day before Boston’s citywide election. Regardless of whether that smoking gun would have helped Flaherty win, the reality is daunting.

With the significant force once provided by the Central Artery Project axed completely, ISD’s 15 general inspectors (who also work as trapper-baiters) follow the Boston Plan as best they can, working with individuals and neighborhood organizations who have been left largely on their own to find solutions. Building projects approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) are required to submit impact studies before digging and keep pest-control consultants on payroll, but are ultimately policed by themselves and by Boston’s already taxed ISD unit (the latter only when a complaint has been made).

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