- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

A harsh winter is on the way and that's good news for humans, bad news for romantic rats.
They'll be so busy killing each other for something to eat they won't have time for anything else, and that's good news for their human hosts.
Though rats will soon begin searching desperately for food and warm homes, Bruce Colvin, an expert on ecology, says residents can keep them outside by patching holes in their homes, even if they must "crawl on their hands and knees."
Residents should trim outside bushes because the rats most commonly found in the District burrow under low shrubs with branches close to the ground.
The District has twice as many rats as residents, which puts the vermin population at about 1.4 million. And the National Weather Service predicts a typical mid-Atlantic winter of cold temperatures and rain.
Rats get so desperate for food they eat each other in cold winters, and the rat population in the Northeast reaches a low in January and February when fewer scraps of food are dropped by humans and fewer insects and seeds are on the ground.
"But in a warmer winter like we had last year, there can be consistent breeding," Mr. Colvin says.
The numbers are alarming, and some female rats are 10 inches long, not including their 6- to 8-inch tails. They can give birth to eight to 10 "pups" every three weeks. During a warm winter, a female rat can give birth to as many as 50 pups in her 6-month, adult-life span.
Nevertheless, say D.C. officials, the 1999 Rat Summit to reclaim parks and streets is working.
"Although more people are returning to the District, the number of rats is going down," says Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. In October 2000, the D.C. Council introduced legislation for "Preventing Rodent Harborage and Abating Rodent Infestation."
The District has begun citing residents who fail to comply with trash regulations. Since October 2001, officials have issued 563 commercial citations at $1,000 each and 178 residential citations at $50 each. The District has also distributed sealable 4-foot, heavy-duty trash cans to buildings with three or fewer households.
D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, says he has pushed for a larger rodent control budget in each of his four years in office because stricter laws and codes on Dumpsters and trash are important in the battle against rats, and $200,000 was allocated this year to stop rats in sewers before they went into homes.
Restaurants that fail to take proper precautions are perfect environments for rats, and trash near eateries appeals to rats during winter because pedestrians drop less food on the ground than in warmer months, Mr. Colvin says. Restaurant owners must use the tightly sealed containers for their food and make sure trash cans do not overflow.
Constantine Stavropoulos, owner of Tryst Coffeehouse and Diner in Adams Morgan, agrees, saying his establishments use secure Dumpsters that are regularly cleaned with disinfectant, and his stores have heavy-duty trash cans for the streets around their buildings.
"It's a trash problem," he says. "Unless the city cracks down on trash, the rats will stay."
As president of the Adams Morgan Business and Professional Association, Mr. Stavropoulos is lobbying for a single company that meets sanitation requirements to handle trash pickup in his area. He says he'd like his restaurants to be a model of the battle against rats in Adams Morgan.


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