It looks like it’ll be a ratty season for Kodiak.
The rodents are running rampant this year, at least according to one local pest control technician, BJ Johnson from American Pest Management.
“It is definitely a rat season. I monitor, because I’ve done it so long, I monitor the winters. And this is what I call the third winter in the row of no winter. We haven’t had a real cold winter in at least three years now, and hence that gives them plenty of comfortable climate to propagate, and that’s what they’re doing.”
The warm winters certainly aren’t slowing the rats down. Johnson says rat populations have exploded all over the island.
It can be a challenge to pinpoint exactly why rats flourish one year and not the next.
Steve Ebbert, a Homer-based wildlife biologist for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, says temperature affects the amount of food available more than rat population. He says they burrow underground, hang around in warm man-made structures, and live in even more northern locations in the state.
Ebbert says wildlife biologists do know island rat populations change seasonally and over a couple of years.
“We’ve seen this on other islands where there are rats and permanent human inhabitants, and they report that it’s not the same every year, that rats seem to persist at a normal level and then all of a sudden become more abundant, and we don’t quite understand why, but it’s probably a combination of food availability and maybe stress caused by weather.”
Or lack of stress, he says.
As far as the type of rat running around Kodiak Island, Johnson says it’s the Norway rat. According to Ebbert, the Norway rat is the most successful of the invasive rats, and it traces its origin in Alaska back to the first known introduction of rats to the state – when a derelict Japanese vessel landed on Rat Island sometime before 1780.
“Since that time, there’s been maybe a dozen large islands that have been successfully invaded by rats where the rats have become established. Kodiak got ‘em sometime before 1920.”
Ebbert says, to biologists like him, rats are a concern because eggs and chicks are part of their wide-ranging diet. Large numbers of rats can be detrimental to colonies of seabirds, which breed on land during the summer.
For Kodiak home owners and business owners who turn to Johnson for his services, the rat is an ever-growing pest. They sneak through the smallest holes, dig through garbage and, according to Johnson, flock to chicken coops.
Johnson says it’s not always a quick fix, but he says people should clean up around the base of their homes, get rid of excess debris, and avoid piling wood up against the side of the building.