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This Tucson City Council member is helping a neighborhood manage its roof rat problem

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2023 - 1:23pm
Updated: Tuesday, July 25, 2023 - 6:04pm

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Roof rat
Truly Nolen Pest Control
A roof rat

The Sam Hughes neighborhood in central Tucson is one of the city’s oldest communities, named for one of Tucson's founding residents. The area is sought after, featuring older homes with deep porches and other charming touches. Homes close to downtown and even closer to the university of Arizona’s campus. In February, Sam Hughes was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

This summer, the rats moved in.

“Our dishwasher stopped working, and when the tech came out, he said the wires had been eaten through probably by a rodent,” said Laddie Stewart-Hall. She has lived in the Sam Hughes neighborhood for several decades, and she’s seen the rats in her home.

“I've seen a group of three of them on our blinds in a plant,” she said. “I came into the room in the middle of the night and put the light on, and they were right there.”

And according to Laddie, these rats get into everything.

“We had to change all the sheets, the bedding. We even rewashed laundry in our laundry basket because there were droppings everywhere,” she said.

Both Laddie and her husband are concerned for their health. She says they're both immunocompromised.

Last week, residents met with city officials and an integrated pest management specialist from the University of Arizona to learn about Rattus rattus — the invasive roof rat.

The scale of the problem became evident as private pest control experts discussed the numbers. The Tucson Sentinel reported that one said in the past year they had trapped and killed almost a thousand rats in the area. They found 120 rats in one house.

A few solutions are on the table, but none seem definitive.

A black rat aka roof rat
Getty Images
A black rat, also known as a roof rat

Steve Kozachik is that community’s representative on the Tucson City Council. He says the problem goes beyond Sam Hughes. The Show spoke with him more about the infestation, beginning with what is driving these rats into people's homes.

STEVE KOZACHIK: They don't like the heat any more than we like the heat. It's 110 degrees outside. Just the same way that we would prefer to be in a nice, cool environment on the interior of our home, they would as well. And so to the extent that we provide them entryways, they’re going to find them. They’re going to get in. And then it becomes incumbent on us to make sure that we control it inside the house because they can carry some diseases. And so there is that other than simply the gross-out factor. There are diseases that they can carry.

If you have found evidence of them in the house, such as droppings or if you've found that somebody has been nibbling on the on the bags nesting material such as shredded paper or fabric or plant material, if food packaging has been chewed on, then you want to throw that food away. You don't want to try and just hope that they didn't get to it because they can be passing diseases around.

LAUREN GILGER: So let me ask you a little bit about the scale of this and what you're hearing from residents in your ward right now. You put together a sort of an event to try to hear concerns from some of the people, specifically in the Sam Hughes neighborhood. You heard from people in pest control companies who say they're seeing this big spike. What's it looking like?

KOZACHIK: Well, since we held the meeting — and the meeting was intentionally intended to include residents in addition to Sam Hughes, not just Sam Hughes. And so we had residents from all over the community come and take part in this because people see rats and rodents around their homes. And since the meeting and during the meeting, we heard from people from other regions of the city that are also seeing them. And so it was really an informational meeting and it was quite helpful. We learned that there are commercial pest companies who will come to your home and do an inspection, pointing out places that can be points of entry.

It was good for people to hear that it does not take a wide open door for a mouse or a rat to get into your house. A very small opening can achieve that. But it was also instructive because we had, prior to the meeting, I'd spoken to people from Pima Animal Control Center about some possible solutions. And one of them that they had kind of tossed out on the table was perhaps getting some sterile feral cats around the neighborhood. That did not receive widespread or even any kind of support from the neighbors, because that brings them into conflict with the birds that people enjoy. They also can also attract coyotes as somebody who’s going to prey on the cat.

And so every kind of solution had its own kind of pros and cons. Another possibility that the animal care tossed out was working with game and fish on some small barn owls. Barn animals require nesting boxes. They have to be habituated to an area. But once that happens, they're pretty good hunters when it comes to field mice or small rodents. The challenge with the barn owls, though, is that the great horned owls, which are the most aggressive type of owl species — if you hear them hooting around your neighborhood, they might go and prey on the barn owl.

And so the whole food chain of nature comes into play when you're talking about this. You know, the great horns will eat the barns, the barns will eat the rodents, snakes will eat the rodents, the coyotes will eat the cats. And so all of this is happening all around us all the time. People asking for a “solution” to this probably left the meeting a little bit disappointed to hear that the solution is in the form of managing the issue right. Or eliminating the problem.

GILGER: I mean, even there was an entomologist there from the University of Arizona who said there aren't a ton of solutions for this.

KOZACHIK: Right. Dawn Gouge came down from Phoenix ,and she was very, very helpful and very, very informative. And her takeaway was, if you see them out and about in your neighborhood, then make sure you you’re doing what you can to prevent them from entering your home. If you've got compost piles, if you got wood, if you got debris piled up around your yard, if you let your fruit fall to the ground and lay there for a while, even if you see fruit up in the tree that's been nibbled on before it even leaves the tree, you might have roof rats because they can climb very well.

So if that's the case, make sure that you don't have tree limbs that are hanging over to sell your house and touching your house. Because they’ll just walk across the limb and find your roof and perhaps find a way in through some flashing or down your chimneys. There are ways to help, to rat-proof or rodent-proof your house.

The takeaway from Dawn, though, was don’t expect that we are going to come to a point in the desert where they’re simply not around. They will be around. They are around. And the best thing you can do is to manage their presence inside your home.

GILGER: All right. We'll leave it there. Steve Kozachik, Tucson City Council member for Ward 6, joining us to talk more about this. Steve, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.

KOZACHIK: Absolutely. Thanks for the invitation, Lauren.

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