by Stephen Puibello
Reprinted with permission of Digital City Boston/America Online

The rats are back!

This time the furry varmints are making appearances in the Public Garden, drawing attention from out of town visitors and nighttime dreamers.

"We have the most highly developed rats in the country," says Boston Commissioner of Inspectional Services John Eade. Bruce Colvin of the Central Artery Tunnel project agrees. "Rats reproduce faster when there is an ample food supply," Colvin adds. Each rat is able to reproduce three litters per year. On average, each rat can have as many as eight little rats. "Careless picnickers and open trash cans could be luring hungry rodents," says Eade. Anyone who has seen all of the litter baskets on Newbury and Boylston streets that are often over-flowing with litter would have to agree The rats might be new in the Garden, but the problem is an old one.

Eade, like officials from other urban cities, concludes: "Eliminate the food source and you will eliminate the rats." Seems straight forward. So how does a city go about eliminating the food source?

Normally each resident places trash out on the curb in a barrel or plastic bag the night before trash pick-up day, awaiting an early morning collection. But in this district, the trash is prohibited from over-night storage. And for good reason.

The prohibition was put in effect shortly after the passage of the bottle bill in 1983 by then City Councilor David Scondras. What had been undisturbed trash was suddenly being strewn about during the night by scavengers in search of returnable bottles and cans. The resulting buffet of garbage drew rats in droves.

Even the prohibition of the placement of garbage on the street overnight has not worked. Two years ago Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, and Mission Hill (District 8) experienced an enormous surge in the rat population, attributed mainly to the mild winter of 1994-95. Citizens and tourists alike stand back in horror as the rats keep on propagating.

"Not only were there more of them, but they were also more aggressive, since they were competing against each other for the limited food supplies around them," writes Tom Keane, Boston City Councilor from District 8 in an article on his web site.

Because most of District Eights trash is collected in rear alleyways, it is out of sight, out of mind, and apparently hidden away well enough so that too many of us don't abide by the law. The alleyways are littered with garbage, and that's why the rats plague our neighborhoods, and now even the Public Garden.

Who's to blame? When one considers that only 1/3 of all the units are owner occupied, it seems evident that non-owners either don't care as much about the neighborhood as property owners or the city just does a lousy job educating renters about the rats and the trash bylaws that could make a difference. Councilor Keane, in a 1996 Back Bay Courant article stated, "As most residents know, rental properties in the Back Bay typically turn over on September 1." If the Boston City Council is aware of this prime time for renter turn-over, why has the city not taken initiative in an educational campaign?

Some real estate brokers on Beacon Hill should be applauded for their efforts to make a difference. These dedicated business owners have addressed the issue by adding a line to rental contracts that reads: "Lessees agree to abide by Beacon Hill trash regulations." The contract also includes excerpts from the trash regulations, conveyed through an attachment from a neighborhood association..

Take a walk around Beacon Hill and discover for yourself why this neighborhood is so clean. Something as simple as this should be made into an ordinance giving the long time residents and the neighborhood associations teeth in aiding the education process. When will the government of this city provide the basic services to ensure public health?

If you live in one of these neighborhoods: Back Bay, Beacon Hill, or Fenway, please help the city in combating the rodent problem. Call the Boston Public Works Department of Sanitation and ask about trash collections in your neighborhood. Call one of the district's neighborhood associations for information, letting them know of the problem. (See 'Hood Resources for listings.) Place recyclables out separately. Place nickel deposit items into a clear bag as a way to stop the rummaging.

If you see rats around the trash area outside your building, call the Inspectional Services Department (ISD)/Rodent Control at 635-5352 and ask that one of their inspectors take a look. ISD response time is good, and the inspectors are good at the job of baiting and trapping.

If you see trash, pick it up. If you see that there is always trash around your home due to over-flowing barrels or dumpsters, call Code Enforcement at 635-4896, asking them to send one of their officers.

Working together, City Councilor Thomas Keane, the various neighborhood associations, Inspectional Services Department, Code Enforcement, and the good citizens of Boston will beat this growing problem. While the combined efforts of early morning trash collection times, an addendum to lease agreements regarding trash regulations, and clear bags for nickel deposit items are sound strategies, without a city-wide campaign, results will be inconsistent at best. Please share your comments on any or all of these at screen name: BackBayNag