Ah, spring. It’s a time for finding romance, for stretching your legs in the sun, for rejoicing in whatever water has been spared by the drought.
Rats like to do those things, too.
That’s why they are now scurrying in alarming numbers through bucolic Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco.
The bayside park is a breeze-kissed spread of grassland, park benches and salt marsh on the southeast edge of the city graced by hundreds of strollers every week, and particularly beloved by dog walkers.
Created in the late 1990s on land once slated for a shipping terminal, it has a fenced-in dog run and trails that meander past bushes and bay waves. One of the city’s most diverse aggregations of birds, from egrets to blue herons, gathers there.
Rats are part of the equation for any wildland, but visitors say that equation’s been tilted by a veritable invasion of ratty little feet in the past two months. The furry pests scamper under benches, scrabble through brush and often bolt boldly across the flat, dirt dog-run area, sparking whatever pooch happens to be nearby into a frenzied chase.
Since rats are nocturnal, their races and romps happen most often at night or in the early morning.
“They seem to be everywhere,” Mary Ann Hoffman, 59, said one recent evening as she walked her terrier, Jessie, and boxer, Mingus, at the park. “You expect to see them now and then, sure. But like this? In the trash cans, running across the parking lot, in the bushes? No.
“It’s different, and it drives the dogs nuts.”
She winced and held out her hands to indicate a creature the size of a smallish rabbit. “They’re big, too – like this,” she said.
Just then, a bristly black rat – maybe 10 inches long – shot across the field in front of her and dived beneath a batch of piled concrete chunks. Hoffman cried out in surprise, Mingus lunged on his leash, and Hoffman’s husband, Jeffrey Germaine, grimaced.
“Yeah, they’re big all right,” Germaine, 59, muttered. “Real big.”
The Port of San Francisco, which owns the park, is attacking the problem with a contracted pest control agency that has been setting humane traps and blocking up rat holes for two weeks, said spokeswoman Renee Dunn Martin.
It will continue to press the fight as needed, she said. Among the options being considered are rat-proof trash containers.
“This has not happened before,” she said of the incursion. “It’s an open space, and a natural habitat for a lot of creatures, but regarding the rats, we are definitely on top of that issue and doing our best to address it.”
In the meantime, she added, “we hope people continue to come out and enjoy the park.”
More than likely this new vexation is an anomaly, she and pest experts said.
That’s because the mini-explosion of vermin can probably be pegged to the severe, ongoing drought.
With the winter drier and sunnier than usual, outdoor creatures like rats were fooled into starting their spring mating rituals earlier, leading to an unusual preponderance of winter babies, said Tina O’Keefe, owner of the RatPros animal removal company in Pacifica. That means more snouts and claws on the ground.
And with the drought pinching down the sources of fresh water critters need to survive, they go roaming away from their usual gulping spots in search of new ones. So that means not just rats, but also raccoons, skunks and snakes are out of their usual patterns and rambling to people-heavy places they typically wouldn’t invade – among them trails and dog runs like those at Heron’s Head, O’Keefe said.
“I’m seeing a lot of this kind of activity all over the area,” she said. “It’s amazing. We’re pretty busy with it.”
See our video about the rat trouble at Heron’s Head Park at www.sfgate.com/news/item/ChronWatch-Rats-29053.php.
What’s not working
Issue: More rats than usual have been scurrying around in Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco and disturbing the human visitors, particularly those who walk their dogs. Experts blame the drought.
What’s been done: The Port of San Francisco, which owns the park, has had pest control workers at the park for two weekends, and says it will continue to address the problem as needed.
Who’s responsible: Port of San Francisco Public Relations Manager Renee Dunn Martin, (415) 274-0488.
Heron’s Head Park rat population surges, thanks to drought – SFGate
rats – Google News