The Legislature passed a bill last week that would ban most uses of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) following high-profile deaths linked to the pesticides of several Southern California mountain lions.
Assemblymember Richard Bloom of Santa Monica revived the measure, Assembly Bill 1788, after it failed to pass in 2019. The bill began as a ban on SGARs for all state-owned property but is now a ban on all use with a number of exemptions, including for agricultural operations, food processing facilities and eradicating invasive species like nutria, as well as certain public health situations. A number of ag groups have dropped their opposition, though the Western Plant Health Association, Syngenta and pest control applicators remain opposed.
The final arguments on the Senate floor focused on separating politics from the scientific review process of a regulatory agency — a debate rehashed from bills in 2019 that proposed bans on the herbicide glyphosate and the insecticide chlorpyrifos.
In opposing AB 1788, Sen. Steven Glazer of Orinda argued that decisions to restrict SGARs should be rooted in science, “not based on politics.”
“We have a situation — and we get these once every year to come before the Senate — where someone says this is bad and we need to circumvent the process that's been established in law for having a thorough review based on science,” he said.
The current reevaluation process for SGARs began in 2019, following an investigation by the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) that found previous mitigation measures that limited use to certified applicators had not decreased rates of SGAR exposure to other nontarget wildlife. Sen. Henry Stern of Canoga Park pointed out that DPR has been restricting local governments, specifically the city of Malibu, from imposing their own bans on SGARs during the review process.
“We have already made efforts to take those products off the shelves, and yet the pest control applicators keep using it,” said Stern. “It's cheap and it's easy, and it's easier in some ways than just cleaning up your garbage or doing the maintenance you need to make sure that there aren't rats coming.”
Stern downplayed public health concerns tied to rodent problems, such as outbreaks of typhus in Los Angeles homeless populations, calling them excuses for addressing the problem and arguing that mountain lion groups were going extinct in the meantime. When used as rat poison, SGARs, which carry more potency than other classes of rodenticides, can be fatal to large predators. In 2019 Bloom and other lawmakers pointed to the death of P47, a mountain lion beloved by residents in the surrounding counties.
“Just last week we heard about the death of P76, the sixth collared mountain lion to die from anticoagulant rodenticides and the third to die in the last two years,” said Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica. “Researchers at UCLA and the National Park Service have documented the presence of this rodenticide in 26 of 27 local mountain lions that have been tested in our area.”
Republican Brian Dahle of Lassen County acknowledged the need to protect wildlife, but worried further restricting the use of SGARs would not be effective.
“We have a lot of people who use these anticoagulants and they're using them the wrong way,” said Dahle, citing cases of water quality issues from illegal pot growers applying large amounts of SGARs. “We need to go after the people who are breaking the law.”
Allen countered that AB 1788 would simply limit the use of SGARs until DPR finishes its reevaluation and would not supersede the agency’s authority, adding that DPR had no timeline for completing the process.
Lawmakers and regulators have been pushing through SGAR restrictions on other fronts well. In February, Asm. Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park introduced a bill requiring additional training for pest control operators who use SGARs. Republican Sen. Patricia Bates of Laguna Niguel had a bill that would have prohibited sales to anyone without a state applicator license. It focused on one specific anticoagulant at the center of the mountain lion deaths. Neither bill saw a committee hearing due to the shortened legislative calendar.
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The Department of Fish and Wildlife then approved a contentious petition in April to list two subgroups of mountain lions as protected under the California Endangered Species Act.
AB 1788 is currently on the governor’s desk, where cabinet members like CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld will be guiding the decision making.
In an interview with Agri-Pulse in February, DPR Director Val Dolcini, who was appointed by the secretary, recognized the importance of SGARs in controlling rats and public health issues.
“But there are many other things that you can do before that to deal with rat problems: exclusion, sanitation, snap traps,” said Dolcini. “The work that we're doing to identify ways of making sure that the second gens don't impact nontarget wildlife … is high on our list as well. We want to make sure that these are used sparingly but used safely.”
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