Over the past few years I have come to know Kian and Joel Schulman, a local Malibu couple who have made it their mission to help protect endangered wildlife by advocating for a city wide rodenticide ban. They began their work in 2010 after reading a Malibu Surfside News article by by Ann Soble and Suzanne Guldimann. The article informed them of rodenticide poisonings that were happening locally and how they had resulted in the death of mountain lion P-25. When these rat poisons make their way up the food chain via rodents and small animals they bioaccumulate in the larger animals that hunt and eat them.
With the support of other passionate locals, Kian and Joel's organization, Poison Free Malibu, was born and has been working nonstop to both raise awareness and implement real change. For the past decade, Poison Free Malibu has worked to educate the community on non-toxic alternatives, sanitation solutions and the importance of saying no to rodenticides. Although the city of Malibu has yet to implement a rodenticide ban, Poison Free Malibu has successfully urged a number of businesses to do the right thing. After two years of contacting Urban Outfitters, for example, the company finally agreed to remove their bait-boxes at their Malibu location as well as nation wide! This was an incredibly exciting achievement, and it reminds us how impactful local level environmental advocacy can be. I hope the Q + A with Kian will inspire you to learn more about your city's rodenticide policy, spread community awareness about what's at stake and to implement real solutions that affect real change.
Carson: What animals are at the greatest risk of harm from rodenticides?
Kian: Mostly it is predator species that eat the poisoned rodents - owls, hawks, herons, skunks, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, badgers, bears, mountain lions, etc. The other big victims are from eating poisons directly. Dogs are the biggest victims which we hear about all the time.Also, non-predator birds are frequent victims of directly eating the poisons that are not contained in bait boxes, or fall out of them. Any animal, such as rabbits, can also be poisoned this way.
C: How many mountain lions have we lost to rodenticide exposure in the past couple years?
K: It is difficult to ascertain how many mountain lions and other wildlife have died from rodent poisons. The majority are not collared to detect their movement. We estimate that 80 to 90% of all of our predators in the Santa Monica Mountains have been detected to have rodent poison in their systems.The problem is getting worse. There have been three mountain lion deaths due to rodenticides this year alone. In 2016 a study was done on 111 mountain lions in 37 counties of California. 95% of them were found to have rodent poisons in their systems.
Below is a list of confirmed mountain lion deaths from rat poison in and around the Santa Monica Mountains from https://www.nps.gov/samo/learn/nature/puma-profiles.htm:
C: Many people don’t realize that their pets are also in jeopardy of contamination. Do you see these cases often?
Many people have told us very sad stories about their dogs who have eaten the poisons. Approximately 50,000 dogs nationwide are accidentally poisoned a year, as well as 10,000 children.
C: What has been the greatest achievements of Poison Free Malibu
K: This past June, Malibu passed the long-awaited Earth Friendly Management policy in which all pesticides are banned from Malibu city-owned property. We are now working with the city to develop an ordinance to require that dumpster lids be closed and locked, making trash waste secure from rodents and unauthorized access. Starting with Malibu, we worked with 10 surrounding cities including Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Simi Valley and Hidden Hills, and got them to sign off on anticoagulant poisons. You can learn more about this here
Every bait box that is taken away gives me joy that animals have been saved from these horrible poisons. We are currently looking to legislation as a permanent resolution. We helped move forward the 2014 state ban on consumer purchases of the four worst second generation anticoagulant rodent poisons that could be sold over the counter. We presently have an assembly bill AB1788 that will be voted on by the full Senate in the legislature next year. This bill will remove these four worst rodent poisons not just from consumers, but also the pest control services for all of California.
We also assisted Pepperdine University in moving toward a green policy. The Oak Park school district with six schools removed all of their bait boxes and created a pesticide-free policy. We also assisted the city of Irvine in developing its organic policy.
C: What has been the most difficult thing to implement?
K: Educating the city to alternative organic enrichment practices. We are now working on passing the Malibu LCP (Local Coastal Program) amendment where rodent poisons, insecticides and herbicides will be banned from all of Malibu.
C: Are there other cities who have imposed these bans? Why do you think Malibu is reluctant to do so?
In general in California, the pest control-poison lobby created a law that blocks cities and counties from regulating pesticides other than on their own property. This is called “preemption” where the state “preempts” all the regulatory power in this regard. The way around this in Malibu is that the Coastal Commission is a state agency and can regulate pesticides. The LCP document between the Coastal Commission and the city or county can have provisions regulating pesticides this way. Los Angeles county did this in October 2014, so the Santa Monica Mountains region in the Coastal Zone north of Malibu is pesticide free! It is the example we are following. The other cities mentioned above and on our website have banned the use on their own property only, not on private property.
C: What are the different types of pest control methods?
C: Can you tell us a bit about owl boxes?
K: Owl boxes are great, especially in open areas. They are very effective for agriculture especially. One owl will eat 1000 rodents a year. A family and three babies results in thousands of rodents eaten per year. If we kill raptors with poison we are guaranteed an increase in rodents. Raptor Poles are very effective, sometimes more so depending on location. You can learn more about these solutions here
C: Many people believe that if you ban rodenticides you will have a rodent issue. Can you explain why this is not necessarily the case and how people can implement sanitary practices to reduce pest problems?
K: Rodenticides do not solve the problem. When people or businesses or schools or homeowners or home owner associations (which are big poison users) tell us they have a rat problem, our response is why? What is going on at your location? Usually it is access to unsecured trash or pet food or fruit on the ground, or other causes. Also, buildings must be sealed. Poisoning does not address the cause, it is just a convenient way to avoid the issue indefinitely. It really is just a way to dispose of the rodents so that people don’t see them, but that is because they go die in the environment and poison the animals up the food chain.
C: How can locals help implement change in their own communities?
K: If you see a bait box anywhere, ask the owner of the location to please stop using poisons and look for alternatives for rodent control. You can direct them to our website or give them our email address. If someone wants to help with our ongoing efforts on the Malibu, L.A. County and California state levels, please email us at PoisonFreeMalibu@gmail.com. Keep an eye out for the bait boxes, they are usually hidden in the bushes or behind buildings. Please ask the management to remove them and look to sanitation and exclusion for rodent control. You can also work to have your city pass a resolution against rat poisons! Click on the city names here for examples of resolutions.