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By Alison Swallow

July 13, 2023.  At the most recent meeting of the Conservation Commission on Tuesday July 11th, Behavioral Ecologist Dr. Prassede Calabi addressed the commission on behalf of a group of Winchester residents seeking to discourage the use of Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs).  Calabi asked if the Commission would consider sending a letter to the state legislature supporting three bills currently under consideration.  The bills would help wildlife by placing limits and stricter regulations on the use of these poisons, which travel up the food chain to sicken and kill wildlife including eagles, owls, and foxes. 

The first bill is H.814/S.540, which would abolish a state law that currently forbids individual towns from regulating the use of SGARs and other pesticides on private property.  The second is H.825/S.487, aka the “Hawkins Bill”, which would create a database to track SGAR use in the state and promote public education surrounding its potential danger to wildlife, pets and children.

The third is H.804, a bill that would approve a home rule petition submitted by the town of Arlington to allow them to regulate (and potentially ban) SGARs. Although specific to Arlington, it would set an important legal precedent for other towns as well.

Calabi also proposed promoting a specific alternative to poisons, in the form of electric bait boxes to control rat populations.  Evidence from Europe demonstrates that poison bait boxes are increasingly less effective because rats are becoming immune, she told the commission, and that they cannot develop an immunity to electrocution because it’s not a substance that enters their bodies.

Committee member Reed Pugh voiced his support for a letter and suggested that if Calabi’s group wanted to provide specific language, the Conservation Commission could draft a letter and send it to the state legislature.  He added that he believes that SGARs also contribute to the “bumper crop” of rabbits that is increasingly afflicting backyard gardeners by entering the food chain and impacting their predators.  All other members present supported sending a letter.  Commission chair David Miller clarified that he supports actions related only to SGARs, but not to other pesticides, and therefore wants to review the specific language first.

A member asked where Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Michael Day stand on these bills, and Calabi confirmed that they do strongly support them.  She stated it is still critical to the bills’ passage to send letters, as they keep track of how much correspondence they receive on a particular bill and use that in their efforts to pass it.

The Conservation Commission voted unanimously in support of a letter, and it was agreed that Calabi would send proposed language to the commission immediately.  Once received, Miller would review it, draft a letter and send it on behalf of the commission; as soon as possible, since the legislature breaks for a recess on August 1st.

The following day, in a letter dated July 12, and addressed to Rep. Rebecca L. Rausch and Rep. Daniel Cahill of the Joint Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources, Miller expressed support specifically for H.804, writing “Both local experience and observational scientific data clearly indicate that SGARs are problematic and frequently lethal for raptors and other predators and scavengers. The ability of municipalities to legally control their use and subsequently explore and encourage the use of alternative, more targeted and less broadly lethal approaches to rodent control is desirable.”

Alison Swallow is a town meeting member and a member of the local group opposing the use of SGARs.

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