Often people approach Save Arlington Wildlife for advice and guidance on how to make progress and reduce the use of SGARs and/or other rat poisons in their own communities and interested in information on starting their own “Save Wildlife” chapter, initiative, or grassroots campaign. Congratulations! By even asking this question, you have now taken your first critical steps toward making a difference on this issue in your backyard and will probably save some lives in the process!
Here are some steps to promoting positive change on rodenticides in your town or city:
- Find other like-minded people who share your concerns and might be willing to team up to start a movement.
While people can go it alone, the truth is there is strength in numbers. This can sometimes be a lot of work, and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin, or burn out. Having people to offer moral support and commiserate with can also help prevent compassion fatigue and anxiety. Additionally, when it is one person or even just two people making noise on an issue, they can be dismissed as a malcontent/s or outliers. It’s much harder for businesses, institutions, and government agencies and officials to dismiss a dedicated group or movement. To recruit some people to the cause, try reaching out or posting on your local neighborhood mailing lists or on Next Door, Facebook pages for your town, Friends of local parks or conservation area groups, Meetups, and more. Once you have at least a few or handful of people, have your first meeting (Zoom or GoogleMeet should make this easy) and discuss next steps and divide up duties!
- Start gathering some info and making connections with municipal players.
Many towns and cities have different approaches to SGARs.Some municipalities currently are not using it at all; others may not be using it now but have recently and will in the future; some communities have banned SGARs from school properties, but not other public properties; some use it on public properties, including even schools.
Some departments you should consider reaching out to include the Board/Dept of Health (BOH), the Dept of Public Works (DPW), and the Dept of Parks and Recreation. You can ask them what their current rodent management strategies are and if they include rat poisons, and SGARs in particular. If they are evasive, you can file a public records request for this information (which would be the most recent pest management contracts the department or overall city or town have with a pest control company, the money spent on it their rodent management budget or what it entails–specifically what poisons, if any, are being used and where).
You can file a public records request for just the most recent contract or ones for a certain period of time (say the past 5 years). For more information on filing a public records request, please visit: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/divisions/public-records/public-records-law/public-records-request.htm
Many municipal officials are elected and so there may be opportunities during election season to bring this up to them when they are running again as an issue constituents care about. Asking these officials to clarify their positions on rat poisons/SGARs can bring this issue to the forefront of public and media attention and impress people that this is a topic they need to consider when they are at the ballot box.
- Reach out to and attend meetings for town groups and committees most likely to have a vested interest in this issue and offer support.
This includes your municipal Conservation Commission, municipal Zero Waste or Recycling Committee, Parks and Rec Dept, and “Sustainable” Committee or Official. Show up prepared with some materials to support your concerns, i.e., print-outs of some recent articles, brochures, or even a Material Safety Data Sheet of a SGAR or excerpts of one of the recent EPA Ecological Risk Assessment reports. Gauge if any of these groups would be willing to work with you on an awareness/education campaign on rat poison, improved trash management, a Contrapest pilot, and/or getting the word out on not feeding wildlife (such as through increased signage and enforcement)–as well as supporting strengthened municipal laws on SGARs (i.e., a possible ban on public lands).
Conservation Commissions tend to be sympathetic to this cause and also have lands under their jurisdiction they manage independently of the municipality. While it is unlikely they allow SGARs on their lands they manage anyway since federal and state guidelines tend to have restrictions on the proximity of rodenticides to wetlands and waterways, getting the Conservation Commission to codify prohibition of SGARs in their policies and/or making an official statement, can go a long way to leveraging future/other municipal actions/policies.
- Reach out to your Select Board member, City Council representative, or Town Meeting member.
If you have a good relationship or have worked on other issues or proposed laws prior to this, that is a bonus. Another thing to look for is someone who has championed similar issues that resonate on themes of animal welfare, wildlife/environmental conservation, and/or public health. See if you can get their buy-in or support on potential proposed warrants or bills. For towns with town meetings and Select Boards: Town Meetings often have the ultimate say in passing warrants dictating the use of SGARs in town. However, Town Meetings usually follow the example of the Select Board, which often holds a preliminary hearing and vote on a warrant before it goes onto Town Meeting. A super-majority or unanimous vote by the Select Board can go a long way to helping increase chances of passage of a proposed warrant during Town Meeting.
Many Select Board and City Council Meetings (which tend to occur several times of month), have a public comment period (often near the beginning of their sessions) where residents of the community can speak about relevant community issues on their mind. Please check the municipal calendar, which should be available on your official town or city website. You usually have up to three minutes to speak, so prepare a written statement to read, but also make eye contact when you can. Try to use facts as well as local anecdotes to make your case (for instance, has a neighbor’s pet recently gotten sick from rat poison? Has there been a local wildlife casualty or is there a raptor nest near bait boxes you are concerned about?). If possible, try to have a few people speak to the issue that night, so a government body understands this isn’t just a single person concerned (that being said, if you can’t find other people to speak that night to the issue, one voice is better than none to at least get the ball rolling). Many other commissions and agencies also have meetings where you can speak for an allotted time either during a specific period or if you ask ahead of time. If there are a handful or more of you working on this issue, you can divide up duties of who will attend/address which committees or commissions.
- Arrange a public event where a public speaker or researcher who is knowledgeable on the topic can offer a presentation to your community.
A public presentation or talk can get people excited or interested in the topic. It can also educate residents about the issue and arm them with information they can use to become advocates with you on this issue! While in-person meetings are great, nowadays the wide availability of Zoom and GoogleMeet allow meetings to take place online as well, which can reach an even larger and more diverse audience. If you do choose an in-person venue, work to make the event as equitable and sustainable as possible–choose wheelchair/disability accessible venues, consider sign language interpreters, and encourage wearing masks and that attendees be up-to-date with vaccinations to protect immuno-compromised individuals.
Save Arlington Wildlife founder Laura Kiesel is available to present to your community both online and in-person (as long as some basic COVID precaution and accessibility concerns are met). If she is unavailable, she can refer other potential speakers for the event. You can contact her through the SAW contact page or DM her through the SAW Facebook page.
- Make a website and build a social media presence.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or too big. Something that offers some basic information on the topic that your group can point people to and recruit more members. Save Arlington Wildlife and Raptors Are The Solution have many resources on their websites you can use as templates or borrow from (as long as you offer credit to them where it’s due). There are many free hosting services you can use. You can also start a Facebook page for your group and invite as many members of the public as you can. Try to post on your Facebook page at least a few times a week and whenever any relevant news comes out.
- Approach an organization in your town or city that may consider hosting the initiative.
If you have contacts at an organization that works on environmental issues, you can consider approaching them to see if they would host a “Save Wildlife” campaign initiative. This can help you tap into their resources/membership base and even potentially use their non-profit status to help fund the effort (sort of like a fiscal sponsor for your project). Some organizations that may make good sponsors or hosts for a Save Wildlife initiative or campaign are land trusts, green street coalitions, sustainability groups, and Friends groups of local parks or wetlands.
- Distribute educational materials, hang flyers, and invest in lawn signs.
Raising awareness is key, and getting the right information out there is critical to building momentum. The best part is there is no need to reinvent the wheel as Raptors are the Solution already has a ton of brochures, flyers, and one-pagers on different aspects of this topic, all ready for printing out on their website. Print them out (opt for recycled paper to help the environment and save trees!) and see if you and your group can work to hang flyers up around your town or city on bulletin boards at your local libraries, parks, laundromats, and coffeehouses–as well as wooden utility posts in high-traffic/high visibility areas. Many businesses will host a section for brochures near their register or windows you may also be able to take advantage of.
Finally, if you can pool together some money and invest in lawn signs to get the word out (this is where having a partnership/relationship with a non-profit can be helpful as they often get discounts on such ventures and may even have some funding to draw from to invest in this effort), this has been found to be a wildly popular to spread the word about the dangers of rat poison to wildlife. Save Arlington Wildlife and other Save Wildlife chapters and independent organizations have used this design:
Think strategically!: what are some homes, businesses, and churches where they would be willing to host a lawn sign that would get a lot of eyeballs on it and spark community dialogue?
- Write guest columns/letters to the editor (LTEs) on this topic in your local newspaper/blog.
This will not only get the word out and reach a new audience, but often these are read by local politicians who stay updated on trends in public opinion, which can help later on if/when there is a relevant warrant or bill they are voting on on this issue. Use a combination of facts and anecdotes in your piece and appeal to people’s better angels when making your argument. Here are some examples of letters to the editor drives SAW has done on this issue in YourArlington and the Arlington Advocate/Wicked Local.
If your local paper no longer hosts a LTE/op-ed section (sadly, the decline of local news have led many papers to cut this section), reach out to a reporter at these publications and urge them to do a story on the topic. Look for instances in local news that may pique their interest–have there been local wildlife deaths or pet poisonings, etc.?
If you have a hyperlocal news or cable station, have people in your group write them and urge them to do a segment (or several) on this topic!
- Consider starting a petition.
While petitions sometimes have limited effectiveness, they can really help raise awareness, organize action, and encourage deeper change not just with the entity being targeted in the petition, but with others learning from it. The best target for a petition would be a nonprofit organization or business that owns their own property and makes their own decisions regarding rodent management (as not all businesses or NGOs own the property they work out of and often in those cases don’t have power over whether poisons are used there), as well as that relies a lot on community goodwill and support. For instance, here in Arlington, SAW petitioned a nonprofit affordable housing organization that was using SGARs on its residential properties and successfully petitioned them to phase out their SGARs bait stations. SAW also successfully petitioned the New England Aquarium in Boston to stop using rodenticides.
- Reach out to your local wildlife rehabilitators.
Get their stories and perspectives about wildlife in the area being sickened or killed by rodenticides, so that you can be better armed with real accounts of the impacts of poisons on wildlife in and around your community. Better yet, help organize a fundraising event or campaign for your local wildlife rehabber to donate the proceeds from to them, which will help a good cause, while also raising awareness on this issue.
- Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce.
Write to them about your new Save Wildlife initiative/chapter and explain your concerns about local wildlife. It might help to share examples of how people want to support businesses that engage in “green” or “sustainable” practices and how wildlife tourism also helps local businesses. Ask if you can present or speak at a monthly meeting and/or write a piece about rat poisons for their e-newsletter. As part of this, you can pitch a Poison Free Pledge campaign for businesses and residential landlords to sign onto and then give them a placard if/when they do.
- Start a Poison Free Pledge campaign.
You can have a space on your website for people to sign into and pledge to be poison free in managing rodents in their homes or businesses. This is a great way to involve and empower the public. As part of this effort, you can also go door to door to local businesses to see if they are using poisons and if so, would consider alternatives if they have the ability to (not all business owners do because it’s usually ultimately the property owner’s decision) and if they do, give them a placard to place on their front window announcing their Poison Free status and offer them praise on social media and your website. You can alo approach businesses that do not seem to be or are confirmed to not be using poisons and ask them if they would like placards or public kudos on social media as well. You may consider approaching businesses that have a “green” theme or mission first as they may be the most receptive to these ideas, or businesses you have a pre-existing relationship or other “in” with. These same stores may also be willing to host a display on the issue in a corner of their store for a certain length of time.
- Table at your local Town day/Riverfest/Earth Day Festival.
Most municipalities have one if not several festivals and fairs over the course of the year where groups, businesses, and organizations can table and present. You can print out outreach materials from Raptors are the Solution, make a display similar to the one from SAW pictured below under #15. During the event, you and some of your fellow volunteers can talk to interested members of the public about the issue who approach your table. Sometimes you can register to table for free, other times there may be a nominal fee between $50-$100. If you need nonprofit status, RATS or another organization may be able to offer fiscal sponsorship or support for the endeavor. If not, you can also approach another group or organization that is interested in similar issues and ask if they can also let you table with them on this topic or if you can give them some materials to have at their table.
- Rent a display at the local library.
Similar to #14, the public libraries of many/most municipalities often have a display space for citizen groups and nonprofits to exhibit on their topic for a month for free. As with tabling at a festival, you can make a display to include, and also add brochures and handouts for people to take (that you will check in on and restock/replenish as needed). This is a great way to get the word out! You can also have a QR code on your display that redirects people to your website and lets them know how to sign up and take other local actions (like writing to their local Town Meeting Member or City Councilor representatives)! Here is an example of SAW’s display at the Robbins Library in Arlington:
- Reach out to your local housing authority.
Each municipality has a local housing authority that has under its ownership and supervision a number of rental properties offered under Section 8 for lower income individuals and families. Unfortunately, many housing authorities tend to use rat poisons such as SGARs. But luckily, unlike private landlords or businesses, they are more beholden to public scrutiny and opinion. You can look around their properties and see if you notice black bait boxes labeled as containing SGARs (though note not all bait boxes are labeled and may still contain SGARs, please click on SAW’s Frequently Asked Questions in the menu section for more info on this).
If you are not sure if your local housing authority is using SGARs, you can file a public records request for this information (please see #1 of the Toolkit). If/when you confirm that your local housing authority is using SGARs, you can consider petitioning them, or writing an open letter on behalf of your group, urging them to stop using SGARs and/or other rodenticides. For instance, a group of concerned citizens in Arlington, including the proponents of the warrants to phase SGARs out of town, wrote an open letter to the Executive Director and the Board of the Arlington Housing Authority, strongly urging them to stop using SGARs at AHA properties. They responded promptly by phasing them out.
Local housing authorities also have public meetings, many of which are being held on Zoom nowadays, where the public can listen in and there is often a public comment or Q&A period. Finally, all Board members except for one (which is appointed by the governor) are elected in municipal elections. This means this issue can be brought to the forefront as an election issue as one their constituents care about.
- Clarify the Board of Health’s Requirements for Construction.
We are in a construction boom and unfortunately, rat poison is often the automatic go-to when developers demolish buildings to construct a new property. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can approach your local Board of Health and ask what their protocols are for rodent management during the “pre-demolition phase” of a new development. Often, they will require the developer to use rat poison or SGARs, or at the very least often require the presence of bait stations, which in turn incentivize the use of poisons. But this is not necessary or required by state or federal law. The BOH usually has agency to independently change this policy without any intervention from Town Meeting or City Hall via legislation. As such, some positive pressure, like letters from the public or a possible petition, can help change this practice.
Usually the requirements for pre-demolition are available on the BOH website and you can then file a public records request for the last year on the rodent management plans submitted and approved for all construction projects for the last year to get a sense of how many developers are using poison (warning: it will probably almost all or all of them).
- Propose a warrant or bill to your town meeting or city council – In many/most towns and cities in Massachusetts, a regular citizen or group of citizens can propose municipal-level legislation. Once you have some support/momentum from the community, you can consider doing this and/or approach an ally in Town Meeting or your City Council to do it as a sponsor/proponent. Some potential warrants/bills can include:
- Banning SGARs/ARs on publicly-owned and managed lands. While municipalities cannot ban pesticides on private property, they can ban them on their own lands like parks, schools, and libraries. Even if your municipality doesn’t currently use ARs or rat poisons and states they aren’t intending to, codifying that into their laws will not only insure they do not use SGARs in the future, but help establish legal precedent that will also make it easier for other municipalities (that do use these poisons) to pass similar laws, as well as help leverage likelihood of potential restrictions of SGARs on the state level at some point.
- Submitting a Home Rule petition to the state for permission to ban SGARs/ARs on private property in the town or city. Again, municipalities can’t ban pesticides, including rodenticides, on private property without permission from the state. Passing a Home Rule petition is a powerful move that signifies the town or city recognizes this is an important issue and state law is not adequate in protecting our wildlife, pets, and children from SGARs in their municipality. So far, the Town of Arlington and the City of Newton have passed Home Rule petitions regarding SGARs. While Home Rule petitions tend to be uphill climbs in Massachusetts, the more municipalities that submit them on this issue, the more likely the state may be to revise their policies on SGARs even without the passage of legislation.
- Having the municipality in question adopt a formal Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy that emphasizes non-poison alternatives to managing pests and earmarking funds for alternative rodent management strategies like ContraPest.
- Working together with other Save Wildlife chapters/initiative to advocate for/support relevant state legislation
This would include rallying people to write their Massachusetts Representatives and Senators when bills on the state level are due for their Committee hearings or votes on the House or Senate floors. You may also want to work with your group to get people to meet virtually or in person with your/their State Reps/Senators on this issue and ensure they are co-sponsoring and supporting relevant bills, and/or willing to introduce/draft other proposed legislation on this topic that would advance restrictions on SGARs.
Many state Representatives and Senators will host open virtual or in-person office hours for their constituents to attend and talk about what is on their minds once a month or so. Organize several people who care about this issue to attend with you and make sure your elected state officials understand this is an important issue and one you keep in mind when you vote. If they don’t offer open office hours, you can request to meet with them or their staffers at a mutually convenient time. It’s good to get a few people at a time to do this. You can find who your representative is and their contact information here.
In addition to in-person or virtual face-to-face meetings, letters, faxes, and emails are also important and effective when done in combination with each other.
- Arrange a virtual or in-person meeting with your US Representative and Senators or their staffer about possible federal actions.
Did you know that staffers of US Representatives and Senators have a duty to listen to their constituents and usually are open to meetings with their constituents? Similar to above, you can call or email their office to arrange an in-person or virtual visit with their staffers to discuss your concerns regarding SGARs. The more they hear from people, the more likely they are to take action.
Arrange to have a few of you present, but not too many people as these meetings tend to be relatively short (30-40 minutes) and prepare what you plan to say in advance. Having pictures/images, articles, and studies to show them/share with them, will also show you did your homework. After the meeting, send a follow-up email thanking them for their time and sharing any resources your reviewed or referred to during the meeting.
Senators and Representatives also often have “Town Hall” events that you can try to attend and ask a question during the Q&A part (if there is one) on this topic as a prompt.
To arrange a meeting with Senator Warren’s office: https://www.warren.senate.gov/services/meeting-requests
To arrange a meeting with Senator Markey’s office: https://www.markey.senate.gov/contact/share-your-opinion (call the office to ask for an audience)
If Katherine Clark is not your US Representative and you are not sure who is, you can find out by clicking on this link: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative