Clintonville residents are making strides in reducing the rat population in response to appeals from Columbus Public Health officials after a random survey proved lots of rodents call the neighborhood home.
"The people in this community have done an excellent job," Scott R. Whittaker, program manager for vector control with the Division of Environmental Health, told Clintonville Area Commission members last week.
"It's unbelievable, the differences we've seen," he said. "I'm impressed, without question."
He added, however, that legal action remains a last resort for property owners who don't address situations that can foster the rodents.
"We do need to have that option, but that's not our goal," Whittaker said.
Kristopher Keller, the CAC's District 8 representative and head of the commission's task force on rats, said city officials are in the process of developing the best approach for reducing circumstances favorable to the vermin.
Keller got the ball rolling on the issue in August when he brought the matter up at a commission meeting, saying he and some of his neighbors had noted rat activity in the daytime. That's a strong sign of overpopulation by the normally nocturnal critters, he said at the time.
Columbus Public Health personnel eventually conducted a survey in 50 random blocks of the neighborhood, inspecting 900 parcels over a two-month period to look for rat droppings, gnaw marks, burrows and footprints, Whittaker said.
Around 34 percent of the residences visited showed evidence of rats, Keller said.
The national standard for determining if there is a significant rat population that requires action is 2 percent, he added.
Food availability, often in the form of poorly maintained compost piles and bird feeders, is the top offender in attracting rats, Keller said.
"The biggest part of this is working together as a team," Whittaker said. "We don't want to come in and point fingers at anybody."
Columbus Public Health employees initially will offer advice and educational materials to people whose homes could provide a haven for rats, he added. Only if property owners decline to take action would they be issued a "notice of violation," Whittaker said, and be taken to court only as a "last resort," according to a flowchart he distributed at last week's meeting.
Only if people take steps to reduce the rat population and the rodents persist would public health personnel use bait to eliminate the problem, Whittaker said.
"The plan is not to use bait until everything else has failed," Keller said.
Stricter regulations now are in place to regulate the type of bait used to kill rats and how it can be applied, Whittaker said. The guidelines are intended to reduce the possibility of domestic animals ingesting the poison, he said.
Those with questions and concerns should call the city's 311 line to be connected with someone in the Environmental Health section, Whittaker added.