Why Seattle Is One of the Most Rat-Infested Cities in America

By Jen Swanson

March 15, 2018

Our city’s hyper construction is causing more than traffic issues. Experts believe it’s one reason our city is ranking high as a rodent-infested town, and getting rid of the pests is anything but easy

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Seattle Magazine.

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This article appears in print in the March 2018 issueClick here to subscribe.

Great food, mild weather and a prime waterfront location have long guaranteed Seattle a spot among America’s top cities. Unfortunately, that appeal also extends to some less desirable neighbors, so much so that the Seattle-Tacoma region placed ninth on a 2017 ranking of America’s top 50 rodent-infested towns; specifically, rats. “Rats have been a problem forever in Seattle,” says Jeff Weier, technical director for Sprague Pest Solutions, a Tacoma-based company that proudly notes “90 years of kicking pests in the tail.” 

Weier saw rats when he moved here in the ’80s, but lately, it seems the problem has grown. “I’m not sure exactly why,” he says, though he speculates that development plays a role. “There used to be open fields and lots everywhere and they’re all being filled in with homes,” he says. In other words, rodents that once lived here have essentially been displaced. “And, of course, when we build in their environment, we invite them in, basically.

One of the city’s biggest construction projects—the 2-mile tunnel being constructed beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct to replace that roadway—offers one answer. Before Bertha, the tunnel boring machine, broke ground in 2013, Sprague Pest Solutions reportedly ran a mobile-billboard campaign warning residents of a pending “ratpocalypse,” predicting a scourge of displaced critters heading indoors. After all, that’s exactly what happened in Boston, whose signature Big Dig displaced so many pests, one newspaper ran a 2002 story titled “The Year of the Rat.”

Seattle city officials took note and passed new legislation modeled after longstanding programs in Kirkland and Shoreline that require developers to initiate pest abatement programs prior to demolition of any buildings, residential or commercial. That legislation took effect in 2017. “What that means is they’ve got to call somebody like me to go out to the property and set up a rodent control program,” says Öland, which means setting up from six to 10 poisonous bait traps around the property. “Your normal house, my house, might get normally three bait stations put outside,” he says, “but on a rodent abatement program, you want to knock out all of the rats—and fast.” 

By controlling rats prior to demolition, they won’t find new homes in your neighbor’s house or yard. “It’s really easy, it’s very inexpensive, it’s really cost effective, and you won’t be a jerk to your neighbors.” 

Of course, not everyone is excited about the “bait and kill” option for rat control. Even if you have no aversion to killing rats, you might not want to potentially expose other animals to poison.

Sean Met, who runs a one-man wildlife management operation, A Wildlife Pro, in Seattle, has a different approach. “For most people, the problem is that rats are getting inside,” says Met. He focuses on identifying entry points into homes and then sealing up gaps to encourage rodents, who are perpetually seeking shelter, to take up residence elsewhere. “Rats can come across some powerlines very easily,” says Met, who also suggests other strategies to keep rats at bay, including trimming hedges and trees, eschewing chicken coops and limiting compost to rodent-proof bins, although the long-term solution lies in keeping the property secure. (Others suggested keeping trash in dumpsters placed on the curb, picking fallen fruit from the yard, moving pet food inside and keeping doors closed, in particular, the garage door, which Öland described as “the biggest hole in your house.”)

Met considers his approach unique in that he’s trying to find a permanent solution to somebody’s rat problem rather than securing repeat business. He’s also not a fan of the poison deployed by other pest control companies, which might effectively target rodents but also harms other species, for example, owls and other raptors that unwittingly feed on poisoned prey.