SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- California finds itself in a dilemma over what to do about the abundance of rat poison found in the vast majority of wildlife predators, as the rat population continues to grow in cities across the state.
For years, wildlife biologists have been documenting cases of rat poison compounds being found in the internal organs of deceased predators such as raccoons, birds of prey, and mountain lions.
Public awareness led to the 2014 passage of a state law that banned consumer use of "second generation anticoagulant rodenticide", or SGAR, which are more toxic than previous versions.
But in the following years, several highly publicized cases of mountain lion exposure to rat poison, including the Griffith Park cougar known as P-22, and the death this spring of another popular mountain lion, P-47, and the subsequent photo of his carcass, galvanized opposition to SGARs.
"Seeing him lying dead because of exposure to these toxic poisons, that is a very big wake-up call," said Alison Hermance, Director of Communications and Marketing for WildCare, an wildlife animal hospital in San Rafael.
The State Assembly passed AB-1788 by a margin of 49-16, that would pose an outright ban on the SGAR, with some exceptions that include agriculture applications.
However, the pest control industry is sounding the alarm, saying the bill's passage could lead to a rat population boom.
Earlier this year, government employees at Los Angeles City Hall were sickened by typhus, a disease that is transmitted by fleas from rats. The rats had infested a homeless encampment nearby.
Chris Reardon, executive Vice President of the Pest Control Operators of California, said in meetings with the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, that the bill is "swiss cheese" because it contains too many exemptions.
Instead, the PCOC proposed building upon the 2014 law, and widening buffer zones near sensitive wildlife habitat, and imposing a sticker program to more tightly track and regulate the purchase of the SGARs.
"We need every tool possible to knock down these populations. If you take an important tool out of the toolbox, then it leaves us with more challenges when west an enormous population growth in California," said Reardon.
Hermance contends more needs to done to address the root cause of the rats.
"You can kill as many as you like, but if you still have something that is attracting rodents, you have open garbage, fallen fruit, if you have birdseed, sanitation issues, if you have anything that is attracting rodents, it doesn't matter how many you poison, there will still be more," said Hermance.
Bloom did not respond to a request for comment. AB-1788 heads into committee in several weeks, and could be up for a Senate vote before the end of summer.
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