Two days after the beloved bald eagle “MK” died from apparently ingesting rat poison, hundreds took to Arlington’s streets to push Massachusetts lawmakers to ban second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs).
MK, who had been nesting with her mate in Arlington’s Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, was taken to the New England Wildlife Centers’ (NEWC) Cape Cod hospital on Monday after likely eating one to two rats that had already ingested the poison. She died Tuesday evening in what NEWC officials called a “particularly devastating” death.
“We hope her case will serve as a true wake-up call for people to stop using SGARS, and will ultimately lead to true systemic change,” NEWC said in a Facebook post. “It is time to restrict the use of these poisons. Rodent control does not need to come at the expense of our natural heritage and ecosystem.”
SGARs have long been an issue in Arlington and Massachusetts, causing the deaths of owls, foxes, pets, and several already-endangered eagles. MK was one of two Eagles nesting in the cemetery, and many in Arlington are hoping the state can take action to further limit rodenticide use.
“She was our community. She was our neighbor.”
Two days after MK’s death, about 300 people met in Arlington for a vigil and march to push lawmakers to pass legislation regulating second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides. On the cold and rainy Thursday evening, the attendees filled the
Laura Kiesel, Arlington resident and founder of the grassroots group Save Arlington Wildlife, organized the gathering, hoping it would allow people to channel their grief into a fight for change.
“After a while, if there’s no way to channel this grief, people start to feel helpless, and they’ll start to turn off of this issue … [like they] can’t do anything about it,” Kiesel told Boston.com the day after the march. “We need to be able to come together and collectively share our grief and then be able to channel it into some sense of hope.”
The mourners met at Arlington’s Cyrus Dallin Art Museum green, where attendees could join each other in their grief.
“We’re being traumatized over and over again, just bombarded with these losses,” Kiesel said. “And I knew that if we didn’t start doing something, I really worried that people were going to stop even wanting to look.”
Led by Kiesel, state Reps. Sean Garballey and David Rogers, the group marched with posters and signs to Arlington Town Hall. Once they arrived, Kiesel and Garballey gave speeches pushing for rodenticide bans and regulations — hoping the town’s elected officials and businesses to see the ban’s widespread support.
“This is not a hopeless issue. There are things we can do.”
Arlington has already banned the use of SGARs on town property, but many feel the lack of private property regulations has proven inadequate to protect wildlife.
Last year, the town also passed a home-rule resolution to prohibit businesses and private property owners, often misinformed about pesticides, from using SGARs. But the resolution, which has yet to be assigned to the state Legislature’s recently created committees, must be voted on by the House and Senate before the ban can take effect.
“On a town level, we’ve done all we can do,” said John Leone, a candidate for the Arlington Select Board who attended the vigil. “It’s now up to the state to allow us to go further and actually these things out into the town.”
Lawmakers have re-filed legislation requiring pest control companies to create a digital database of where they place SGARs, which Kiesel says would be invaluable for keeping predators safe. The bill would also require an annual report containing the location, number, and effectiveness of SGARs and bait boxes.
The bill, which made it unanimously through the House and Senate last year, failed to be enacted as the legislative session ended, said state Rep. James K. Hawkins, who wrote the House version of the bill. But Hawkins says the re-filed bill will likely make it through the chambers “very soon.”
“With usable data, we’ll be able to talk about a ban,” Hawkins told Boston.com. And throughout the march, Kiesel and Garballey pointed to the proposed legislation as a key initial measure to protect Massachusetts wildlife.
“Rodenticide is impacting eagles, owls, foxes, hawks, even family pets,” Garballey told Boston.com. “So the importance of this bill is that it will provide the information needed to assess usage amounts and locations and digitize data, and most importantly promote awareness and education to help us respond quickly to this growing problem. … For me, it’s the first step in banning these products.”
As lawmakers work to pass the various pieces of legislation, Save Arlington Wildlife is encouraging businesses to sign a “Poison Free Pledge,” a stand-in for future legislation that for businesses to promise the use of alternative rat-infestation solutions.
While pest companies encourage businesses to use rat poison, Kiesel and others point out that the use of bait boxes and rodenticide attracts rats in order to kill them. And once emptied, the boxes can provide safety from predators —increasing the rodent population. The tactic also slows rodents down, so it is increasingly likely that predators will prey on rodents who have already consumed poison, causing only more harm.
“A lot of the pest control companies, they do misinform their clients,” Kiesel said. “There are under no legal obligation to be transparent about the impacts of these poisons on wildlife… We’re getting rid of our best natural defense when we kill off our predators with these poisons. And that’s the problem.”
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