Interview w/ Gary Menin Sr. of Raptors Are The Solution Massachusetts


We recently spoke with Gary Menin Sr. the head of the Massachusetts chapter of Raptors Are The Solution (R.A.T.S.). Gary discusses his fascination with birds of prey, why they are so vital to our eco-system, and how rodenticides have impacted their populations. Additionally, Gary discusses some key initiatives and how people can get involved! 



AT:
Why don't you start off by telling us a bit about yourself, Raptors Are The Solution and your current role there?

GM:
I'm a retired environmental compliance manager for General Electric, and I also, when I did retire, I taught physics for a couple of years. I've always had an interest in nature, ecology, bird watching, and birds of prey specifically, because I found them so inspiring, you know. They're dramatic, powerful, elegant, they're intense. But it wasn't until recently, when I was over at my daughter's house because I was babysitting my grandchildren, and I found some rat poison in her home at the entryway. And I knew it wasn't good. Didn't like that idea. It was especially kind of problematic for me and for them, because both my daughter and son-in-law are very heavily into organic things. Everything we buy has to be organic. And I said, "This is a dichotomy," my daughter's name is Jennifer, and I said, "You shouldn't be using this." I was first concerned about their dog, and my grandchildren, of course, that they might get into it accidentally.

GM:
And then, I started doing some research. And I came across an article by Ted Williams, who's an environmental writer, not the baseball player, who was writing for National Audubon. And he was writing about an article where he was working with a Dr. Maureen Murray of Tufts Wildlife Clinic in Grafton, Massachusetts. And she was reviewing autopsy photos of raptors that have succumbed to anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning. And it was just a heart-wrenching essay. And it really got me bothered.

GM:
So I started writing editorials, letters to the editor, to local papers, and I was fortunate that these papers saw it worthy enough to print them as full-page editorials. Then I started getting calls from people that knew me, knew how to reach me, and told me that they found the article quite compelling and that they would stop using such poisons immediately. That they were, in fact, using them, they didn't know of this issue, and now that they found out, they wouldn't use them anymore.

GM:
So I felt very satisfied by that, that I was making a difference almost immediately, that if I could get any given residential family that I could get to stop using rat poisons, I felt that somewhere, someplace here in New England, a raptor family would be saved. As a result of, again, continuing with these editorials, I got an email from the Raptors Are The Solution people in California, and directed to their founder, Lisa Owens Viani, who has been working on this problem for about the last eight years. Asked if I would be a volunteer for Massachusetts, to form a Massachusetts chapter, if you will. So I'm right now, kind of an army of one, if you will, being that chapter representative. And that's how I got involved with it.

AT:
Well, it's certainly a powerful army, Gary. We're happy to hear your message. I was wondering if you could explain to me some of the imperative roles that birds of prey play in our ecosystem, that maybe some people aren't really aware of?

GM:
Of course. First of all, these birds of prey are apex predators. They're at the top of the food chain. Other than maybe other predators, other birds of prey and human beings, they basically have no other predators. They have a lot of life risks, of course. Any given Great Horned Owl that has two owlets in the spring or late winter, they have a 50% chance of surviving for a year. So they've got a lot of stresses on them, notwithstanding the stresses of rat poison.

GM:
But the thing that people aren't aware of, is that if you remove these apex predators, and particularly here in Massachusetts and throughout New England area and the Northeast, you may be aware that we have a serious, rampant problem with Lyme Disease. And the main vector for Lyme Disease, of course the tick itself, is carried by not the White-tailed Deer, but by mice. So if you eliminate these apex predators, the Barred Owls, the Great Horned Owls, the Red-tailed Hawks, these birds which eat a diet of mice almost exclusively every day, are helping us combat the Lyme Disease epidemic. And if you remove them, it's only going to get worse. I don't think people are really aware of that. So they're very important in that regard most directly. And of course, eliminating ... As the name implies, Raptors Are The Solution, ultimately, we'd like to be a society where we could live in harmony with these raptors, and then they would largely take care of our rodent problems for us by themselves. But that's not the case, and people looking for immediate solutions, and too often, they revert to poisons. Which is ultimately, very counterproductive.
Raptors Are The Solution
Photo courtesy of Pamela Dimeler & Raptors Are The Solution

AT:
Right. And obviously, we agree. We follow along the same lines. Can you share with us what birds of prey, specifically, have been maybe the most impacted by rodenticides, species-wise?

GM:
The Barred Owl, I think, has been the most impacted. And also the Snowy Owl. Not the past winter, the current winter, the winter of last year, in the Boston area, they recovered 12 owls that had been poisoned, nine of which succumbed to the poisoning. The other two were resuscitated over time, with vitamin therapy. But these are very rare visitors to Massachusetts. They're a spectacular bird. They serve a special place, and it's just horrific to hear of this number of fatalities in a single season. So the Snowy Owl, the Barred Owl, the Great Horned Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, are all the most of the predators which are most affected by these rodenticides. In fact, I heard from Maureen Murray, she has done research on this, and not every owl that she sees there, or that's admitted, has suffered from poisoning. However, every owl that she's had tested, whether or not she thought it was poison or not, has shown evidence of rodenticide in their tissue.

AT:
Well, that's quite an extensive list. Can you tell us, specifically, about something that the Mass Chapter of RATS is doing to help spread awareness about this issue?

GM:
I will. And before I say it, I should correct myself. It's every Great Horned Owl that she has tested. Not every owl, but rather, every Great Horned Owl that has been admitted, that she's also tested, has produced evidence of rodenticide in their tissue. Not necessarily enough to cause them fatality, but nonetheless, some level of rodenticide in their tissue.

GM:
As far as what we're doing in Massachusetts, here, I had started an initiative, or tried to, for a ballot petition for the 2020 election cycle. However, I've been rather discouraged by that, because it requires something like 63,000 signatures, and I have not been able to muster the resources to go after and get that number of signatures. So I think I'm going to be backing off of that idea, and what I'm doing in the meantime is, of course, I'm doing as many awareness presentations as I can, to local social groups, to the Audubon Society, to animal control officials at various towns, and also to the towns themselves. And I do these presentations throughout the state, as I'm invited, and I'm hoping to do them at just about anywhere in Massachusetts, or within a day's drive of my house, where I don't have to do an overnight stay, if you will.

GM:
Kind of a separate initiative that's being pushed in a number of towns in Massachusetts, and that's initiative to protect our pollinators. Our raptors, of course, they're not pollinators. Nonetheless, when orchards and gardeners, and people in general, use insecticides or pesticides, that, of course, affects the pollinators. And the areas of insecticides, herbicides, and rodenticides, all of which can be systemic, meaning that they get into the tissues of both the target and non-target organism, and cause great harm to that population. So I've drafted up a ballot initiative for my local town, which will be on the warrant in Sterling coming up in May, to encourage the use ... It's a non-binding resolution, so it doesn't have as much teeth as I'd otherwise like. It doesn't really have any teeth. It's just trying to, again, continue to raise awareness, and urge people not to use any systemic pesticides, which will include systemic insecticides, systemic herbicides, or systemic rodenticides.

AT:
Fascinating. Well, we're definitely behind you. That sounds like a really big initiative that you're undertaking. We wanted to ask, what can people do to combat this growing problem, and how can they get involved at the local level?

GM:
Well, one thing that they can do, of course, is to, if they're using poison, is not to use them. There are other alternatives. And of course, you know of some of the other alternatives. And to pursue those other alternatives that don't use poison. The other thing they can do, is they can do like I do, is to try to raise awareness in their community by writing letters to local papers, and also to write their legislators. It's not a far cry that we possibly get some legislative action, separate from a ballot petition, and at the state level, and across the board.

AT:
So, we wanted to get some of your insight on the A24 Rat and Mouse Trap. So how does this alleviate the rodenticide challenge, and what do you specifically like about the A24 trap?

GM:
Well, just about everything about it, I like. It's self-baiting, it's self-clearing, it's poison-free, it's species-specific. I don't think it poses great risk to other species.
It's instantaneous, so we don't even want the rats to suffer, so it's instantaneous, and it's like the Ronco rotisserie. If you set it and forget it, you can go away from it, and that's really what I like about it. But rats, they're more intelligent than we think they are, I think, you know?

GM:
They're not that easy to convince to enter certain areas that they otherwise aren't comfortable with.

AT:
Well, that about does it, Gary. So, we want to thank you, again, for joining us today. Lastly, why don't you let everybody know what's in store for Raptors Are The Solution, what's going on with you, and where people can find you online.

GM:
Well, they can find me at the RATS organization, raptorsarethesolution.org, and there's a list of chapters. And of course, my involvement is with the Massachusetts chapter. And they can link up to me there. My main initiative right now is working on this petition, that we have successfully got it on the warrant for the annual town meeting here in Sterling for May, coming up in May. And in that, my focus right now is to educate people about that article, so that it passes in May. So that the people come to the meeting, and they vote for it.

AT:
Is there any way they can help out online?

GM:
Certainly. Again, anybody in Massachusetts that can spread the word, especially if it gets down to people here in Sterling, they can spread the word about this, and awareness is key. One of the things I'm going to be working on here in the next few months, in addition to that, is to try to raise some money by grant writing. I'd like to get a few billboards put up across the state, presenting the issue on a billboard, you know, that rat poison is killing more than just rats. So.

AT:
Absolutely. Well, again, thanks for joining us today. We certainly look forward to catching up with you again in the future, and seeing what's up with RATS, and yourself, and just continuing on this journey.

GM:
You're very welcome.

Related Posts

5 Ways to Rodent Control Your Garden
  A backyard vegetable garden is a true labor of love. It’s your opportunity to get your hands dirty and create delic...
Read More
Interview with Andrew Burress of Natura Pest Control
  We were fortunate enough to sit down with Andrew Burress from Natura Pest Control who's team caught 39 mice in one ...
Read More
Why Do Rats Have Tails?
One of the rat's most distinctive features is its long, hairless tail. This slimy-looking tail is one of the most com...
Read More
5 Natural Predators Of The Rat
Many people often ask us, “What animals naturally eat rats?” While there are a plethora of rat predators out there, t...
Read More