Bolinas, Stinson stores dubbed “owl-wise”

03/05/2015

Three stores in Bolinas and Stinson Beach received awards last Friday for their commitment to stop selling rat poisons. Karen and Tom Diblee of Bolinas Bay Hardware and Mercantile, A.B. Nasra of the Bolinas Market and Sergio Vergara of the Stinson Beach Market all became the first recipients of the “Owl Wise Leader” award, given by the anti-rodenticide advocacy group Raptors are the Solution, a project of the Earth Island Institute. “Even though these are small stores, [pulling rat poison from their shelves] is a big deal,” said Lisa Owens Viani, the project’s director. “We’re thrilled about it.” Rodents represent a major source of food for carnivorous raptor species like owls, hawks, raccoons and cats, and second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides found in brands like D-Con pose severe health risks to animals that eat poisoned rats. Ms. Viani applauded the more-than 90 stores in the Bay Area that have eliminated rodenticide products in recent years, but cautioned that that number was not nearly enough to fix the problem of secondhand poisoning. Each year, WildCare treats hundreds of raptors; 74 percent of them test positive for rodenticide poisoning. Kelle Kacmarcik, the group’s solutions and advocacy director, said nowadays the hospital tests every carnivorous animal for rodenticide exposure because rat-poisoned animals often do not show symptoms such as sluggishness or bleeding from the mouth. She noted that although it is possible for affected animals to recover naturally, the chances that raptors will continually be re-exposed to rodenticides are great. “Even if they were able to recover from it, these poisons are everywhere,” Ms. Kacmarcik said. “I don’t think people realize the full extent of how these animals are being effected.” Efforts to rid West Marin of rodenticides have been led by Bolinas resident Stockton Buck, who three years ago persuaded the stores to give up rodenticides; since then he has been working to convince stores elsewhere in West Marin to do the same. “I think man’s footprint on the earth is devastating,” said Mr. Buck. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice for Bolinas to be rodenticide-free?’” The three Owl Wise stores—which this week received letters of recognition from Assemblyman Marc Levine—now sell only manual and electric traps. At first, the owners dealt with some resistance from their communities, but over time they have been able to educate their customers on the environmental damages that rodenticides cause. “No one asks for D-Con anymore,” Mr. Vergara said. “Customers understand the value of the program.” And, over the past three years, Mr. Buck and others have noticed an increase in the population of hawks near Bolinas and Stinson Beach. Hawk sightings have given cause for hope among rodenticide-free advocates that their efforts in West Marin, so far, have not been in vain. “I remember one day that [my wife] said, ‘I don’t hear the owls like I used to,” Mr. Buck said. “This is an important first step.” Information on the effects of rodenticide poisoning is available at raptorsarethesolution.org.