Evanston takes action against growing rat problem

Cydney Hayes, Reporter

An increased number of complaints from residents regarding rat sightings has led Evanston officials to reach out to private pest control companies.

An increase in 311 calls in the city regarding rodent sightings in residential areas has prompted the Health and Human Services Department to seek private rodent control services, said Carl Caneva, assistant director for health and human services.

“The volume of calls got to be in excess of what our staff could handle,” Caneva said. “The best solution was to combine the benefits of public and private services into one program.”

The 311 program is an outlet for residents to call the local government or local police about non-emergency issues. These calls have both alerted city officials to the rat issue in general and have helped them pinpoint the most affected parts of the city, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the problem seems to be evenly distributed in the city.

Before the city began seeking help from private firms, the protocol for public pest control was putting bait boxes in alleyways to catch the rats, Caneva said. If residents saw rats anywhere but alleyways, they would have to hire a private company themselves, he said.

Braithwaite said each alderman is also working to bring more awareness about pest prevention to the residents in their respective wards. In the second ward, Braithwaite said he includes rodent control strategies in weekly newsletters as well as addresses residents directly about the issue at community meetings.

Caneva said the city has been seeking aid from private pest control companies for about three years as the rat population peaks each fall.

The city will begin working with the chosen private firm at the end of October. Until then, residents must take care to avoid unintentionally giving rats a new home, Caneva said.

“Keep as much food, water and shelter on your property to a minimum,” he said. “For as much as we can do, we can’t monitor every house at all times, so some of it is on the residents.”

The city uses a rat control strategy that avoids using chemical pesticides and focuses on long-term pest prevention such as behavior manipulation or aversion techniques. The city does not ban use of chemical pesticides, but avenues for pest management like bait boxes or other traps will more likely be used, Caneva said.

Bobkiewicz said the city’s rat population typically grows significantly in the fall. Due to late-summer breeding patterns and pre-hibernation food collection, not only does the volume of rats increase but visible rodent activity increases as well, he said.

The substantial growth in 311 calls for rat sightings is most likely a combination of the seasonal influx of rats, the increased awareness of the 311 system in the community as well as multiple people calling about a single rodent sighting, Bobkiewicz said. However, even if there are not as many rats as the 311 calls indicate, people are never happy with rats on their porches or in the alleys behind their homes, he said.

“Zero is what people want to see,” Bobkiewicz said. “Anything over zero is unacceptable, but that’s tough to accomplish, so we’re spending more dollars and deploying more resources to get as close as we can to zero.”

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