PCO Raises Awareness About Bears Destroying Bait Stations

Lee Lawrence, founder, Zee Best Pest Control & Inspection Services, said he's witnessed black bears destroy rodent bait stations in his service area (Reno, Nev.) and he is concerned for both the bears and the pest control industry.

September 13, 2022

Editor’s note:  Lee Lawrence, founder, Zee Best Pest Control & Inspection Services, Sparks, Nev., is also the retired pest control licensing and enforcement program manager for the Nevada Department of Agriculture. Lawrence, with contributions from Charles Moses, retired EPA pesticide program manager for the Nevada Department of Agriculture, submitted the following article about black bears and rodent bait stations.

If you’ve ever visited a park or picnic area, there’s a chance you’ve seen postings about not feeding wildlife, especially bears. The reasons for not feeding wildlife are especially apparent to pest control professionals who realize that not only does it cause animals to become dependent on humans to supplement their diet, but food debris can also attract undesirable wildlife such as rats and mice.

As our housing demands increase, so does the development of land in or close to areas frequented by wildlife. Homeowners in areas where bear populations exist, often deal with problems resulting from the instinctive foraging behaviors of their local bear population. For the most part, these problems are understood by sanitation providers who issue bear proof garbage cans and other interested groups who are available to assist in minimizing the impact of the human/wildlife interface. However, beyond standard product label directions to not apply rodenticides in areas, or in a manner, accessible to wildlife, our industry trusts manufacturers to produce “tamper resistant” bait stations to help ensure that we’re following label directions and providing safe and effective use of their products. 

EPA attempted to standardize testing requirements for tamper resistant bait stations in 1994, but since this has not occurred, the issue has been left up to state regulatory agencies to define “tamper resistant.” In addition, most state regulatory agencies require some form of safety labeling on bait stations but are mostly silent on how these stations are to be constructed. 

What exactly is a tamper-resistant bait station? The answer can be found on the label use directions of the rodenticide baits we commonly use. In essence, it’s the ability of a device to securely hold a rodenticide (bait) that resists opening, or dislodging of the bait by domestic animals, wildlife or children under the age of six, and prevents children under the age of six from reaching into the device and acquiring the bait (this is only an abbreviated description). The intent of these label directions is to prevent the product from being accessed (i.e. consumed) by non-target organisms. Can we all agree that bears are non-target organisms?

Our company services many clients along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin. The black bear population has been steadily increasing in this region, this combined with our staggering population growth and extended drought, has resulted in a multitude of problems for bears, citizens and the pest control industry! Bears have been showing up in urban areas near downtown Reno! Once a bear learns how to open a bait station and consumes its contents, it becomes habituated to the new food source and will continue consuming the bait until???

To combat the problem of bears opening and ultimately destroying bait stations in the urban areas we service, our company has been forced to develop a bear proof bait station. We’re currently on our fourth prototype, but at the moment have no plans to market this new generation of “bear proof/tamper resistant” bait station.   

For our industry to avoid scrutiny regarding the use of baits where bears may be present and to protect our use of these rodenticides, it’s our responsibility to take an active approach in solving the problem of bears opening bait stations by asking manufacturers to develop cost effective rodent bait stations that are not only tamper resistant but BEAR PROOF! 


More Bears in Urban Areas?
One expert not surprised at increased bear sightings in urban areas is Edward Ricciuti, author of “Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs and the New Urban Jungle.”

“Tahoe has been the center of increasing black bear activity for several years. It does not surprise me,” said Ricciuti, who added that increased bear activity is not unique to the Sierra Nevada region. For example, in his home state of Connecticut “bears are everywhere. Some people will no longer put up bird feeders.”

Ricciuti’s book was written in 2014 and he has continued to follow this trend of increased bear activity in urban areas. As he noted in his book, the big break for bears came as, in places like New England, “farms were abandoned and the process of natural succession promoted forest regrowth.”

As result, bears that once were found primarily in northern New England made their way to places like Connecticut. “Bears are coming back into areas they haven't been seen for, you know, a century, two centuries. And they're just proliferating,” Ricciuti said.

Mike Peaslee, technical/training director of Modern Pest Services, Brunswick, Maine, said in Modern's service areas there are occasional reports of bears being seen in people's yards feeding at bird feeders, but "I have not heard of any reports of them getting into bait stations." – Brad Harbison