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Rats! Our warm winter is heaven for rodents

Enjoying the mostly mild weather of winter so far?

If so, you're not alone. Rats are liking it, too.

Normally, a long hard freeze in winter kills off at least some of the rat population. But the balmy days of December and January mean communities battling rat infestations in metropolitan Erie County won't be able to rely on the weather for a helping hand.

"In winter, things usually slow down," said Thomas Adamczak, who handles rodent control in Cheektowaga. "But we're getting 15, 25 calls a week."

Amherst, West Seneca and, to a lesser degree, Buffalo are also likely to see increases in rodent problems, said Peter J. Tripi from Erie County's rodent control program.

But don't just blame the weather, he said. The bigger problem, at least in most of the larger suburbs, is that they continue to provide a veritable feast for rats -- despite years of watching infestations grow.

With the exception of the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda area and Buffalo, most communities don't yet require properly covered garbage cans, although they are moving in that direction.

Nor do they require residents to clean up after pets or take care of leftovers in bird feeders.

"Trash day is a buffet," Tripi said.

Healthy, happy and invigorated by the warmish weather, rats are also likely to continue reproducing this winter, which means more litters come spring, he said.

Debris still left over from the October storm is also proving to be a headache because it provides shelter for rodents, said Brian Geary, a Williamsville Village Board member who fields a call or two a week about rodent problems.

He's also worried about the impact of the warm weather, if it continues, on the mosquito population. All that standing water is why, he said.

"We could be seeing mosquito populations we're not used to," Geary said.

Rat infestations have been spreading throughout Buffalo's first-ring suburbs in the last few years, prompting health and safety concerns. It seemed to start not long after Buffalo finished phasing in a garbage tote program designed to combat rat problems in the city.

Since then, the suburbs have been considering purchases of similar totes.

Of all the first-ring suburbs, Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda are the only communities to have done so. They also started enforcing county and state laws meant to starve rats, such as requiring garbage cans with fitted lids.

In the meantime, though, the number of rat-related complaints grows, helped along by the mild temperatures of this winter so far and a relatively tame winter last year.

Tripi said rat-related complaints jumped 51 percent last year in Cheektowaga, from 1,085 in 2005 to 1,640 in 2006.

Amherst saw a 43 percent increase during the same period, from 558 to 798. He said complaints more than doubled in West Seneca, although exact numbers were not immediately available.

In the two communities now using anti-rat totes, the numbers also rose, but much more slowly. Buffalo's complaints went from 1,256 in 2005 to 1,650 last year.

Meanwhile, in Kenmore and Town of Tonawanda, the complaints rose 32 percent, from 1,303 in 2005 to 1,725 in 2006. However, Tripi said most of the increase came early last year before the tote program had started.

He has great faith in the totes, along with better education and the enforcement of laws meant to control rodent infestations.

"A good hard freeze will kill some rats," he said. "But if they are fat and happy, they'll survive a long winter."


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