The Unlearned Lessons of DDT and What We Can Do

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It’s time to share some good news (for a change) as AB 1788 Passes both houses of the CA Legislature!

With less than two hours to go on the last night of session, AB 1788 passed through the legislature and is now headed to the Governor’s desk. We cannot thank everyone enough for calling legislators in both chambers over the past week, right up until the final moments to voice concerns.

It was a nail-biter but we got there with massive community support!

Now, this legislation is on to the Governor’s desk. We remain hopeful that we’ll see AB 1788 become law soon. On Jan. 1, 2021 we will finally see limits placed on most uses of second generation anticoagulant-rodenticides in the environment. This, like DDTs in the 1960s-70s should have never be utilized to control rodents because there are alternatives available.

That said, we can now celebrate a HUGE WIN for wildlife, and the environment! Congratulations to everyone for all your hard work over these many years! Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back… ya’ll deserve it.


It’s Time to Take Action!
Call your State Senator and ask for their support on this important legislation.

To ensure AB 1788 becomes law, if your state Senator serves on the Appropriations Committee, please call them today. If you prefer to make your voice known via the internet, you can submit directly through the legislative portal.

Use this message: “I’m your constituent and am calling to ask the Senator to vote YES on AB 1788 to create a moratorium on the most dangerous rat poisons. It’s critical to take action on this legislation now as these poisons are causing death and illness in extremely high percentages of tested mountain lions and other species including hawks, owls, eagles, bobcats, and many others.”

Letter in support for AB 1788 legislation from Friends of Griffith Park

Beachwood Canyon resident Allison Brooker recently received a call from one of her neighbors about a distressed owl sitting in her yard. Allison knew from experience that owls needed quick rescue. After snapping a photo, Allison called a friend to help her and notified the California Wildlife Center that she would be bringing the owl in for treatment. Her friend arrived bringing a box and towel to help gently corral and transport it to the center.

Ten minutes after the photo was taken, however, the owl died.

Allison’s rescue effort then turned into a disposal exercise. She took the owl to her veterinarian for cremation, and posted pics on Nextdoor. This is when Friends of Griffith Park stepped in.

Hearing about the situation, FoGP president, Gerry Hans realized the owl should be tested for rodenticides and contacted Allison who rushed back to the vet’s office to retrieve the owl carcass. She then passed it along to Gerry who shipped the remains to UC Davis Veterinary Medicine’s California Health, Food and Safety (CAHFS) lab.

A thorough workup at CAHFS includes necropsy, histological work, and lab analyses for heavy metals and anticoagulants. Because Griffith Park is surrounded by residential zones, FoGP has been sending dead animals to this lab for testing to determine cause, especially when there is no obvious reason for the animal’s demise. So far, two coyotes, a fox and a squirrel have been tested at UC Davis with all returning positive results for anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning.

Birds, however, present a more difficult challenge since normally they’re not found quickly enough to extract sufficient liver tissue for the lab work.

As Gerry suspected, the female juvenile owl did have anticoagulants in its body. In fact, tests showed extremely high levels of difethialone, a potent “second generation” rodenticide. The necropsy showed no fractures, no skin penetrations, but there was hemorrhaging (bleeding) in muscle tissue. The combination of all aspects studied resulted in a conclusive cause of death as anticoagulant intoxication. Likely, a mouse or rat ate the poison from a “bait box” and then the slow moving rodent was nabbed by the owl.

While second generation rodenticides were removed from store shelves in California in 2014, pest control companies, such as Orkin and EcoLab use them routinely, often without customers realizing these dangerous poisons are becoming prevalent in the global ecological food chain. Second generation rodenticides kill raptors, bobcats and other wildlife that help keep rodents in check, an ironic twist of Mother Nature’s best work!

FoGP and other environmental organizations have been raising the alarm for quite some time since this struggle is reminiscent of the ban of DDT use across the globe. After three decades of use, DDT was found to imperil many species, particularly raptors such as bald eagles, California condors and peregrine falcons. It’s also been found in various aquatic species which moves up the food chain through consumption. Although DDT use was finally banned in 1972, California condors failed to reproduce in the wild due to thin egg shells, and nearly faced extinction as a result.

A few facts about anticoagulants…

  • Anticoagulants have long half-lives that bioaccumulate throughout the food web, just like DDT. These poisons travel up the food chain to the top predators. Many studies show exposure at rates of 85% and higher in various species randomly sampled.
  • Anticoagulants have shown to produce non-lethal and not readily noticeable effects, just like DDT. For example, suppression of immune response which ultimately decreases life expectancy has been scientifically documented in bobcats.
  • Species are threatened by anticoagulants in California, just like DDT. Nearly 100 deceased endangered-listed San Joaquin kit fox were tested positive for anticoagulant exposure.
  • Anticoagulants are found across the animal kingdom, just like DDT. Studies show them also in invertebrates (such as snail and insects), fish, ungulates and reptiles.

These are the reasons for the proposed State legislation AB 1788, which is now sidetracked for enactment due to COVID-19 priorities. In the meantime, Governor Newsom can act by supporting a moratorium on the use of these products. The process for AB 1788 should play out, but in the meantime, we don’t want continued damage to wildlife and the entire ecosytem.

Ask Governor Newsom to Declare a Moratorium on Rodenticides


More from “down under’s” Brisbane Times on how rodenticides are impacting raptor populations.

Photos: Allison Brooker
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4 Comments

  1. Sharon Loper on

    Unfortunately our Governor won’t even take a stand on covid 19 pandemic. I o know that he is most concerned about Northern California. Finding this out after talking with one of his aids. That is the reason we are in such trouble in Los Angeles. As far as I know San Francisco has some areas that does not allow rat poison.

    I would try sending your comments to Our Mayor (city government) .

  2. I appreciate your effort on this. At the same time, can you elaborate more on the letter to Governor Newsom, that what other measures are needed that would replace prevalent use of anticoagulants? For example, the state could mandate cities to enforce / monitor eliminating food source and allocating budget towards that.

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