An interview with Zak Mertz

We have a very special episode for you this week! We have a very special guest, Zak Mertz, (a.k.a. Superfund Zak) who is the Executive Director of Bird’s Eye Cape Wildlife Center, a part of the New England Wildlife Center. We are going to hear Zak’s personal story, and cover a full range of wildlife topics. We cover squirrel season, climate change, weather patterns, the harrowing tale of an angry mother raccoon and more. About the New England Wildlife Center: The nonprofit New England Wildlife Center (a.k.a, the Center or NEWC) is a grassroots, entrepreneurial venture, launched by a group of Massachusetts citizens 33 years ago. With a development department of two, and no outside help, the Center completed an $8 million capital campaign to build the first-in-the-nation wildlife hospital and science education facility constructed to green LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) specifications. Learn more about the New England Wildlife Center’s work at www.newildlife.org

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Episode Transcript

MALE:  You’re listening to Environmentally Speaking, a weekly podcast diving into legal matters surrounding the environment, public utilities, energy, zoning, and permitting laws in Rhode Island and the surrounding areas with your host Marisa Desautel.  

CLARICE:  Good morning, everybody.  Thank you all for joining us on this special episode of Environmentally Speaking.   

MARISA:  Good morning.  I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney.  

CLARICE:  And I’m Clarice.  I’m coming in with our topics, questions, and things to chat about and I am extra excited today.  Guys, we have Superfund Zach.  We have our first listener request.  

MARISA:  Wait.  This is Superfund Zach?   

CLARICE:  This is Superfund Zach the celebrity.  

MARISA:  Oh, my God.  I didn’t know.  I didn’t put the two and two together there.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  This is the guy who brought us all our first bummer topic and we’ve been bringing it up ever since, so it’s an honor, an OG character.  

ZACH:  Well, thank you guys for having me.  I felt so bad about bumming everybody out.  I thought maybe if we talked about, you know, animals during baby season we could raise the spirits a little bit.  

CLARICE:  Oh, yeah, guys.  Other than coming up with some really sad topics, Zach is actually the executive director of Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center, so we’re bringing the mood back up today.  Like you said, we’re going to talk about some baby animals and all of that.  So we’re really excited to have you.  Thank you for coming on this morning.  

ZACH:  Thank you guys for having me.  It’s an honor.   

CLARICE:  So let’s just start out with some basic foundation stuff.  What is the Cape Wildlife Center?   

ZACH:  Sure.  Yeah.  So we are part of the New England Wildlife Centers.  And so we run two hospitals, one in Weymouth, Massachusetts kind of near metro Boston and then one down on Cape Cod in Barnstable.  And what our organization does is we take in either sick or injured or orphaned wild animals and provide them with free veterinary care with the hopes of getting them back out to the wild.  And then the other half of what we do is education and a little bit of advocacy these days.  And so we’re working to not only teach students of, you know, all ages throughout the community about the importance of conservation, but when issues come up that are systemic or particularly impactful in a given year we do try to help with advocacy on a larger sort of decision maker level so we can affect change that way.  

CLARICE:  So what kind of range of animals come through your door?  I mean, when you say that you’re helping wildlife that’s such a huge range.   

ZACH:  Yeah.  It’s my favorite part of my job in that every day is different.  We take about 230 different species in a given year, so that’s pretty much anything you’re going to find, you know, hanging out in your backyard anywhere across New England, everything from foxes and coyotes to owls and hawks to baby squirrels to skunks.  You name it and, you know, if it ends up on the wrong side of a human interaction or if it ends up with an illness or, you know, something like that we will take it in at either of our hospitals and try to get them healthy again.   

[0:03:16] MARISA:  Zach, do you ever take in more exotic animals?  Is there like a random lizard that shows up ever?  

ZACH:  You know, we do get a fair amount of random lizards now that you mention it.  So one of our hospitals runs a practice called the Odd Pet Vet and it’s a fee-for-service practice, so it helps – 

MARISA:  The Odd Pet Vet?  

ZACH:  Yes.  The pets are odd, but also the vet is my dad and he is very odd.  

MARISA:  He’s odd, as well?   

ZACH:  Yeah.  But, yeah, we use that to generate funding for, you know, our other services.  But we take anything but dogs and cats so that if you do have a random lizard at your house as a pet or a guinea pig or a rabbit or something that’s not a dog or cat we’ll take that in for low costs and, you know, use the money to help the wildlife and teach.  

MARISA:  Oh, that’s wonderful.  I love that.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  It’s so about 500 species total, but I will tell you, getting back to your first point, a lot of people will find like their neighbor’s escaped lizard or, you know, their neighbor’s pet snake has gotten out.  They think it’s wildlife and they drop it off with us, so we do get a lot of those, as well.  

MARISA:  And what do you do with those types of animals that are dropped off?  It’s not like they come with a collar and a nametag or a tracking device.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  I was just about to say how do you tell it’s like a house snake versus an outside snake?  

ZACH:  Yeah.  If you’ve ever tried to put a collar on a snake it’s pretty difficult.  Most of the time we know that, you know, they’re a domestic species right off the bat and then we’ll call local animal control or kind of put the word out and a lot of times we don’t end up finding the owner, so we have to take the next step and try to find a good home for them.  

CLARICE:  Well, I mean, they’re rehomed, but it’s still a good place.  Kind of shifting a little bit, how did you get involved with the center?  You said that your dad is the Odd Pet Vet.  Was it always a family thing?  

ZACH:  Yes.  For better or worse, my father is a veterinarian and my brother is in veterinary school right now, so actually I grew up in a wildlife hospital and I pretty much swore up and down for my entire childhood that I was never go into the field.  And then I went to school, went to grad school and became a hydrologist and it turns out that was short lived because when the Cape Wildlife Center was going out of business they needed an executive director and I kind of got sucked back in that way.  But I’ll be honest, I couldn’t be happier.  Like I said, it’s never boring and we get to do a lot of different things and help a lot of different people and animals, so no regrets here.  

CLARICE:  So how long have you been in this role now?  

[0:06:00] ZACH:  We just passed my fifth anniversary as the director and since New England Wildlife Center took over the Cape Wildlife Center.  

CLARICE:  Very cool.  Kind of shifting a little bit, I know that you do – do you do a lot of field work as the executive director?  Are you still able to get out into the field, or has that joy been passed on to others?  

ZACH:  Well, as it is with many nonprofits you’ve got to wear a lot of hats, so, yeah.  The short answer is, yes.  We just launched a rescue service, so we’re out doing sort of specialized rescues that might be on the scope of what a normal member of the public could do or maybe assisting animal control or specialized departments, but I’m also a janitor and I’m also a carpenter and I’m also a fundraiser and an accountant and a phone answerer.  It’s how we stay in business.  You got to be flexible.  And like I said, if you guys haven’t figured out already, my attention span is short, so getting to do a lot of little tasks throughout the day is what keeps me engaged and makes me probably the most effective I can be at work.   

CLARICE:  I will vouch.  

MARISA:  You said that you lost a rescue?  

ZACH:  Oh, sorry.  We launched a rescue service.  

MARISA:  Oh, launched.  Okay.  Okay.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  So during COVID first and we’re actually having an emergence of bird flu in New England.  We sort of realized that there was a pretty significant need for people to actually go out into the community and pick up animals.  I mean, most of the time it’s either your local environmental agency or environmental police or animal control or a member of the public that finds an animal, right, so it’s either, you know, semi-governmental or a member of the public.  They pick the animal up.  They bring it in.  But with COVID and people were worried about being exposed, it sort of started a pilot program for us where we were actually going out.  And it ended up snowballing because the thing we can do that most other services or animal controls can’t is we’ll bring veterinary care into the field.  

And so what that means is if you have a, say – this actually happened not too long ago, but say you got a coyote that’s like stuck in a fence or something like that.  It’s a species that can be mildly dangerous to humans just because of the disease potential and, you know, of course the coyote [inaudible].  So we were able to go out with a veterinarian and actually chemically sedate the animal, meaning, make it go to sleep, reduce the stress level and then we can work, you know, to cut it out of the fence and get it emergency triage, stabilize it.  And so by the time it’s on its way back to the hospital, it’s already begun the medical treatment, you know, not dissimilar to like a human EMT.  

MARISA:  Wow. You have dedicated staff that does that type of work?  

[0:08:52] ZACH:  Yes.  It took a lot of fundraising, but we actually just last month hired a full-time person who’s trained up and, you know, she’s a vet tech and a wildlife rehabber and a PAC agent.  

MARISA:  That’s awesome.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  It’s been – yeah, it’s been really good.  We’ve done, I think, 42 rescues in 30 days, so the need is there.  

MARISA:  Wow.  When you do the chemical sedation, are you – for some reason I had this vision of someone in a safari outfit with a dart gun, but that’s probably not accurate, right?  

ZACH:  Well, they never let me wear the cool hat anymore, but we do have an air-powered dart gun.  But to be honest most of the time, you know, as per DEA rules and per Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife rules the drugs have to be loaded and should be administered by a license veterinarian and so most of the time we have experienced handlers and it’s mostly done by an injection, but when the situation arises we are ready.  

CLARICE:  So as long as you’re licensed you can go out with a blow dart?  That’s kind of what I’m hearing.  As long as I have a license, I can do it.  

MARISA:  Yeah.  Are you writing this down, Clarice?  

ZACH:  Yeah.  Yeah.  I will tell you – 

CLARICE:  [inaudible] certification.  

ZACH:  We took a – it’s called safe capture.  It was a chemical capture course.  And I should also mention we do work through the Odd Pet Vet with a number of other institutions like a couple zoos, Boston Museum of Science, you know, larger organizations that have collections and so part of those certifications were geared towards working with larger animals, too.  

CLARICE:  All right.  So the next and I think inevitable question about field work is do you have a crazy story or a favorite story about being out in the field or doing a rescue?  

ZACH:  Well, we’ve gotten into a lot of strange situations.  I’ll tell you one from earlier this week because it’s all I can remember.  So early this week that we’re in we got a call from the Boston firefighter academy out on Moon Island and that’s a little far afield for us.  We were like, okay.  What’s going on.  And so this is where they train firefighters and there’s like special ops rescue teams and it’s sort of a whole island that’s dedicated to police and firefighter training.  

MARISA:  Wait.  It’s an island?  

ZACH:  It is.  I guess it’s technically a little peninsula, but it’s right out – if you know where UMass Boston is in Dorchester, it’s sort of right catty-corner there.  

MARISA:  Okay.  I got you.  

ZACH:  It was my first time there, but it was a very cool place.  And one of their simulation buildings where they were doing confined space drills – so, you know, firefighters were suiting up.  I think they were simulating like car rescues or if they had to go into a building with large air ducts they could go in.  So it was – you know, they were trying to get through smaller areas.  And they called because the trainers were setting up the drill and they might have been doing a dry run and they found an extremely angry raccoon in one of the air vents and it caused pretty significant commotion.  

And, you know, these guys are – they’re good under pressure for sure, so they were able to vacate the building safely, but it was a mom raccoon and she had babies and she was very angry.  So we go over and assist them.  And I can’t even tell you.  The building was very cool.  There was like a fake car crash on the side of it and there were people getting ready to repel off the roof and it was just kind of a chaotic spot for a mom to try to raise a raccoon family.  

So after much fuss we were able to safely get the babies out and then capture mom after the fact, but she – you can imagine in a space that’s designed to have a lot of small passageways with a lot of interior rooms she absolutely had the upper hand because she’d, you know, pop through a hole in the wall and then pop out behind us and then above us.  So we eventually settled on a humane trap and so we were able to take the babies, give them veterinary care, gave them fluids, gave them a meal, trap mom so they feed overnight.  

And then in the state of Massachusetts and I think it’s the same in Rhode Island, you can’t trap wildlife and move them off of the property that they’re located on and so we always have to abide by that.  There’s a number of reasons for it, but basically what we had to do was once we had the whole family contained, find a space spot on the property, which we did.  We let the babies – the door open and then we let mom go.  And we were actually able to, you know, set up trail cams.  We were actually able to watch mom come in and one by one move the babies out of the create to a new spot and so it ended really well.  And I believe they’re back to training over there and the raccoon has hopefully found a slightly less chaotic spot for her family.  

[0:13:44] CLARICE:  Oh, that is wild.  

MARISA:  Great story.  

CLARICE:  All I can picture is these people who are like geared up to repel off a side of a building into a car crash and they just turn a duct and face the raccoon.  Like that’s what’s ruined the day.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  They were pretty jazzed up about it.  And I guess, you know, they had full – these are recruits, I think, people going through the academy for the first time and so they were kind of – they needed that space clear so they could take these folks through because no one should have to deal with angry raccoon call on their first drill.  

MARISA:  And was it that they knew to call you?  Do you do outreach with government?  

ZACH:  We have been around for 30 years or so the New England Wildlife Center.  People know us as a community resource and we do do a fair amount of outreach into the community.  Like I said, we work with lot of local animal control departments and, you know, fire departments find things all the time.  But I will tell you we are also on the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force which is sort of a stakeholder group.  It is about 60 towns and local health can apartments.  We also just got a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection to do oiled wildlife training.  And so yesterday – 

MARISA:  Oh, yeah.  

ZACH:  — spent my whole day out with the DEP doing field drills on how to contain oil and those kind of things.  So over the last few years, we’ve been really ramping up our government partnerships.  And the last program I would highlight that is sort of in that vein and I think introduced us to a lot of people is at our Weymouth location we take – now it’s going to be three groups a year of nonviolent inmates – prereleased inmates and they actually come and we’ll train for six weeks in our facility.  So they come and they learn the basic skills of how to be a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant.  They work right with the animals in addition to do carpentry, in addition to doing office work.  And then once they’re released, we give them a work voucher so they can come back and have sort of a first resume point as part of their reintroduction plan.  

MARISA:  Wow.  

ZACH:  And some we’ve been able to place.  So, you know, we did meet a lot of folks just trying to coordinate that programs, too, and it’s honestly one of our favorites.  It’s such a cool impactful way to connect with these folks and, you know, we get them coming back there time with updates and, you know, their new jobs.  It’s really fulfilling to get to do that.  

CLARICE:  That’s amazing.  That’s really awesome work.  I’m going to shift again.  We’re going to go a little bit more into environmental stuff now.  I know that you said you’ve been doing this for five years as the director.  Have you noticed any environmental changes, you know, from when you started to today?  Has there been any like impacts?  

[0:16:39] ZACH:  Well, you’re going to laugh at me, but, yes.  And I have to – the environmental scientist in me has to say this:  We always have to make the distinction between climate and weather, right.  So in our world so much of the animal admissions and so many of the environmental hazards we’re up against whether it be something like, you know, cytotoxicity in water or, you know, emerging disease outbreaks.  A lot of that is driven by climatic cycles or weather cycles and so obviously there things we’re seeing over five years is a pretty small time scale, but I can tell you a lot of it is weather driven.  But I will tell you the thing I am most suspicious about is squirrels.  

And I’ll tell you in the rehab world I don’t think anybody – I mean, any of the rehabbers listening wouldn’t think this is weird, but, again, it sounds odd to the average person.  But we tend to tell time in our business by squirrel season.  And so for many, many years you could gauge when spring has truly started or when babies are starting to be – parents are starting to be reproductive and having their kids by when you get your first batch of squirrels.  And you can kind of tell when the decline in baby season has begun when you get your last batch.  

And so, you know, growing up years and years, decades, you could get your first batch of squirrels always right around St. Patrick’s day.  Like the  Ides of March was like pretty much guaranteed squirrel season and you could set your watch by it.  And then, you know, the end of September is probably when you get your last batch.  And so over the last five years since I started I believe we are starting to see a longer stretch, meaning that we’re getting squirrels unfortunately earlier and into February, but the really concerning is on the tail end we’re seeing babies all the way up through December.  And I think we even got one in January this year.  

MARISA:  Wow.  

ZACH:  And so, again, this is speculation, something we’d love to do more study on, but my sense is with the milder winters or when you have winters with intense like episodic storms but a generally higher temperature overall there is better ground cover which means there is better access to food sources.  There’s better access to water.  And so my assumption is that the parents have more resources and instead of having one or two clutches a year they’re actually having three and four because they’re getting away with it.  

And so, I mean, that sounds silly.  Squirrels are squirrels, but around here they’re pretty close to the base of our food chain and so you can start to sort of extrapolate from there, you know, what is that going to do to the fox population, the coyote population, the hawk population, the owl population.  And all off a sudden you’re sort of up in our top tier predators, so it’s something we’re watching, we collect lot of data on and something we love to dig in if there’s any grad students or professors out there that want to help us with that one. 

[0:19:43] MARISA:  Wow.  

CLARICE:  I’m still stuck on the sentence batch of squirrels.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  Sorry about that.  That was probably not – that was kind of weird.  

CLARICE:  No.  I love it, though.  This is – oh, I would have never – 

MARISA:  Well, it makes total sense and it’s also really scary that if it is climate change, and I think it is, that your folks are seeing the real-life implications of that effect.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  And it’s becoming the norm.  

ZACH:  Yeah, it is.  

MARISA:  [inaudible].  It’s not good.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  It’s scary.  

ZACH:  It’s very scary.  And I’ll tell you in a less comedic way, you know, a lot of the disease processes we come up against every day and, you know, pretty much anyone in New England does.  You think about thinks like rabies which is a zoonotic disease, meaning, people can get it, distemper, mange, any of those sort of, I guess, endemic diseases that can exert some sort of population control on the wild animals, we tend to get relief from them with the colder weather or, you know, with seasonal change, so it’s usually pretty episodic rises and falls.  But we do, you know, I think start to suspect that we may start to see a change in the distribution of cases which, you know, all this is to say human and pet health is very, very tied as we learned during COVID.  

You can’t really separate wildlife health from human health and human wellbeing, so it’s all stuff we do take really seriously and are watching closely.  And our viewpoint on it honestly now is we are just – we’re trying to treat every individual animal, but every single animal is a learning opportunity, so we’re capturing just as much data as we can on every patient and then, you know, try to synthesize it and share it with other people and especially in different parts of the country or especially in different parts of New England where we can sort of compare what they’re seeing with what we’re seeing and try to get to some of the driving factors.   

MARISA:  If any of our listeners are interested in getting involved, what opportunities do you offer for that?  Is your facility open to the public, that kind of thing?  

ZACH:  So the Weymouth branch is open to the public.  It was built as a wildlife hospital, so it’s all windowed.  You can walk through, look at all the treatments happening and they even have like a folk and blues jam every Friday night, so it’s kind of a community center atmosphere.  The Cape branch will definitely do tours, but they have to be prescheduled.  And then we normally have a fair amount of volunteers, but with COVID and bird flu we’ve knocked down the numbers a little bit.  

So I think if people want to get involved, they can absolutely e-mail me through the website CapeWildlifeCenter.com and I’m the guy that responds.  I’d be happy to try and help them set up a program.  Or any interns listening regardless of age, but if you’re in school and looking for school credit we do offer about 75 internship spots each year to undergrads all the way up through veterinary or post-doc students and that’s a – that’s a really cool way to get your hands dirty and learn firsthand what we’re working on.  

[0:22:55] CLARICE:  Yeah.  Those are some awesome opportunities and experiences right there.  I mean, just the idea of the fact that you guys work so closely with the Odd Pet Vet, that’s not going to be your average internship.  So for people looking for a unique way to meet your credits or if you’ve got the extra time, this is a super worthy cause to volunteer and reach out to.  Also, I wanted to mention so you were talking a little bit about disease impact and how you said that a disease isn’t so much confined to an animal, but obviously it will inevitably affect people, too.  You actually helped cowrite a bill on that.  There’s a different – not so much bird flu, but.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  One of the efforts we have been heavily involved in from an advocacy perspective is – this is going to be a mouthful and then I promise I’ll abbreviate it afterwards, but it’s second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and we call it SGARS for short.  But essentially what it is is it’s the pretty standard rat poison that if you were to – you know, say you got a rat problem in your house or a mouse problem.  You pick up the phone.  You call your local pest control operator.  They come out and they say, okay, I’m going to set you up with some of these boxes.  They put down those big black boxes you see on every street corner.  You go to downtown Providence, you go to downtown Boston, you’re going to see them everywhere if you start looking for them.  

And a lot of the time what’s in those boxes is a bunch of bait pellets and the active mechanism in those bait pellets is that it stops your blood from clotting, right.  And so the way it works is, you know, they try to make a target, but a mouse or a rat goes in there.  They are going to eat a little bit of this poison and the mouse or rat doesn’t die right away, right, because you don’t want mice and rats dying in your walls or dying in your ceiling or whatever and starting to smell, so there’s a latency to it.  

And all of a sudden you have a very sick slow-moving mouse, which if you are an opportunistic or lazy hawk or owl or fox that is looking for an easy meal you probably think you’re getting a close to free lunch.  And so you eat this sick mouse or rat and all of a sudden you have then in turn dosed yourself with this poison, so your blood stops clotting appropriately.  You get sick and then the next mouse or rat you can catch because you’re not feeling well is probably one in that same area and probably one that’s also slow moving.  And so you see this sort of bioaccumulation cycle start where these guys can repeatedly dose themselves over and over.  And the reason we feel so strongly about reducing that particular brand of poison is just because the impacts are so frequent and really horrible for us.  

So, I mean, hundreds of times a year we take in animals that have had this type of exposure.  It’s mostly hawks and owls and eagles and raptors.  And, you know, a lot of the animals out there that are not only important to the whole ecosystem health, but also realize they are nature’s rodent control, right.  So, you know, a great horned owl in our care in a year would probably eat 2,000 mice all by itself.  And so if you poison that animal and then take it out of the environment, not only are you, you know, sort of kneecapping nature’s ability to take care of rodents, but you’re pretty much guaranteeing that you’re going to need to continue putting out poison in your area, too, and so it’s a really hard cycle to break.  

And so the bill we’re working on, which I think now has a tag of HD4600 in Massachusetts legislator, it’s called an act relative to pesticides and it was initiated by Representative Jim Hawkins of Attleboro.  And this bill, it’s not an outright ban on these poisons, but what it will do is it will increase education around them.  I should say, too, these poisons, without getting too boring about it, they’re only licensed to be distributed by pest control operators which means you can technically – if you try hard enough you can buy them on Amazon which is a whole other issue.  

But what it means is when the pest control operator comes to your house, you’re not necessarily reading the back of the label or do you ever really have an opportunity to understand what’s being put out if they don’t take the time to explain it to you.  And so this bill would make every operator give out a sheet to the people just say, you know, here’s what I’m using.  Here are the environmental impacts of it.  And you’d have to sign it and just, you know, make that conscious choice because I will tell you we talk about this all the time and I have never given a talk about it where someone didn’t come up after and say, oh, my God, I’ve never heard of that, I had no idea, or, oh, my God, I’ve been using that poison for years, it just never came up that this is what it was doing.  

And so trying to do it that way and then the other big one for us is record keeping in Massachusetts.  And so people do technically need to keep records on how much and the spatial distribution of where they put the stuff down, but they do it on paper and it goes into a repository and it’s inaccessible pretty much to anyone unless you go in for a, you know, prescribed hour or whatever and you want to look through, you know, thousands and thousands of papers and try to make sense of it.  So this would create an electronic database so at least we can start getting baselines on how much is used, where it’s used, and what the impacts are.  And so those three things in concert we’re hoping will reduce the use of this poison without fully, you know, restricting a consumer’s right to make the choice if they want to, but the hope is that they use safer alternatives which do exist out there.  

[0:28:51] MARISA:  And here in Rhode Island even though that legislation wouldn’t affect people here, you could still as a homeowner or someone that uses a rodent company to try to address an issue you can inquire with the company about what they are using and ask if they have an alternative to something that’s not so poisonous.  

ZACH:  Absolutely.  Yeah.  As a consumer you do have a full choice over that and I’ll tell you most companies carry a bunch of different methods.  There are other poisons out there that are not quite as toxic secondarily.  There are [inaudible] strategies, meaning, you can do prevention, and then snap traps, something like that.  There are a lot of options in the toolbox and our goal is just to move this rat poison to the way back of the toolbox.  

MARISA:  Yeah.   

ZACH:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  Great.  

ZACH:  So that’s in our effort.  

MARISA:  Nice work.  

ZACH:  Oh, thank you.  Yeah.  We are making slow but steady progress on that one.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  

ZACH:  Can I give a plug.  You guys down in Rhode Island, you have an agency called the Wildlife Clinic of Rhode Island down there, too, and we actually just had an opportunity to work with them very recently, but they’re awesome folks that I’m sure would be happy to, you know, assist with advice, or if you find an animal that looks like it has rat poison or toxicity they would be a really good resource to call.  

CLARICE:  Oh, that’s awesome.  Yeah.  I mean, to echo those people at the end of your talks, I had no idea that was a thing and it’s such a seemingly small thing of putting out rat poison for your home can affect this huge chain of animals.  It is really important.  

ZACH:  Absolutely.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  I think if you want to plug again it is bill H3991 for those interested in looking to find out more info about it.  And plug a little bit more about the wildlife center.  Let us know where we can find you, get some resources, learn more about you.  

ZACH:  Sure.  Absolutely.  And so, Clarice, I think because it just got recommended favorably [inaudible] I believe it is now House Docket 4600.  

CLARICE:  Oh, okay.  That is important.  Thank you.  

ZACH:  No problem.  I can send you the link after.  It keeps changing on me and truthfully this is your guys’ area of expertise.  This is a lot of new stuff for me, so I’m learning sort of on the job here how to track these things, but.  So, anyway, yeah, what was I going to do?  Oh, plug the wildlife centers.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  Where am I?  

CLARICE:  This is that short attention span kicking in.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

CLARICE:  Zach, now is the time where you sell the center.  

ZACH:  Okay.  I’m ready.  All right.  So if anybody out there is interested in learning more about our organization, if you were to find a sick or injured wild animal, you’re interested in a STEM education experience, or you just want to learn more about the natural world or your own backyard, please check out the New England Wildlife Centers, either our Weymouth branch or Cape branch.  We have people standing by seven days a week and we offer a number of experiential programs to bring people from all walks of the community into what we do to try to empower them to protect the natural world.  You can find us at NEWildlife.org or CapeWildlifeCenter.com.  And if you find an injured animal, our front desk line that’s manned seven days a week and an after-hours number is 508-362-0111.  

[0:32:24] CLARICE:  Awesome.  And if you guys want to hear more from Zach, you can reach us at Help@DesautelESQ.  You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  Let us know what you think.  Bring in any questions for Zach.  If you want to hear more specific topics, let us know.  We’ll ask him to come back if he’s able to.  So on that note, thank you again for coming in.  

MARISA:  Thank you, Zach.  

CLARICE:  We’ve learned about batches of squirrels, raccoons in ducts, and all sorts of craziness, so thank you for that.  

MARISA:  Angry animals.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

CLARICE:  Yes.  

ZACH:  Thank you both.  

MARISA:  Thank you, Zach.  

CLARICE:  All right.  Have a good one, everybody.  

MALE:  Thank you for listening to this episode of Environmentally Speaking.  If you’re in need of an environmental attorney, we are here to help.  Call us at 401-477-0023 or visit our website at www.DesautelLaw.com.  That’s www.DesautelLaw.com

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401.477.0023

An interview with Zak Mertz

We have a very special episode for you this week! We have a very special guest, Zak Mertz, (a.k.a. Superfund Zak) who is the Executive Director of Bird’s Eye Cape Wildlife Center, a part of the New England Wildlife Center. We are going to hear Zak’s personal story, and cover a full range of wildlife topics. We cover squirrel season, climate change, weather patterns, the harrowing tale of an angry mother raccoon and more. About the New England Wildlife Center: The nonprofit New England Wildlife Center (a.k.a, the Center or NEWC) is a grassroots, entrepreneurial venture, launched by a group of Massachusetts citizens 33 years ago. With a development department of two, and no outside help, the Center completed an $8 million capital campaign to build the first-in-the-nation wildlife hospital and science education facility constructed to green LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) specifications. Learn more about the New England Wildlife Center’s work at www.newildlife.org

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Episode Transcript

MALE:  You’re listening to Environmentally Speaking, a weekly podcast diving into legal matters surrounding the environment, public utilities, energy, zoning, and permitting laws in Rhode Island and the surrounding areas with your host Marisa Desautel.  

CLARICE:  Good morning, everybody.  Thank you all for joining us on this special episode of Environmentally Speaking.   

MARISA:  Good morning.  I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney.  

CLARICE:  And I’m Clarice.  I’m coming in with our topics, questions, and things to chat about and I am extra excited today.  Guys, we have Superfund Zach.  We have our first listener request.  

MARISA:  Wait.  This is Superfund Zach?   

CLARICE:  This is Superfund Zach the celebrity.  

MARISA:  Oh, my God.  I didn’t know.  I didn’t put the two and two together there.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  This is the guy who brought us all our first bummer topic and we’ve been bringing it up ever since, so it’s an honor, an OG character.  

ZACH:  Well, thank you guys for having me.  I felt so bad about bumming everybody out.  I thought maybe if we talked about, you know, animals during baby season we could raise the spirits a little bit.  

CLARICE:  Oh, yeah, guys.  Other than coming up with some really sad topics, Zach is actually the executive director of Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center, so we’re bringing the mood back up today.  Like you said, we’re going to talk about some baby animals and all of that.  So we’re really excited to have you.  Thank you for coming on this morning.  

ZACH:  Thank you guys for having me.  It’s an honor.   

CLARICE:  So let’s just start out with some basic foundation stuff.  What is the Cape Wildlife Center?   

ZACH:  Sure.  Yeah.  So we are part of the New England Wildlife Centers.  And so we run two hospitals, one in Weymouth, Massachusetts kind of near metro Boston and then one down on Cape Cod in Barnstable.  And what our organization does is we take in either sick or injured or orphaned wild animals and provide them with free veterinary care with the hopes of getting them back out to the wild.  And then the other half of what we do is education and a little bit of advocacy these days.  And so we’re working to not only teach students of, you know, all ages throughout the community about the importance of conservation, but when issues come up that are systemic or particularly impactful in a given year we do try to help with advocacy on a larger sort of decision maker level so we can affect change that way.  

CLARICE:  So what kind of range of animals come through your door?  I mean, when you say that you’re helping wildlife that’s such a huge range.   

ZACH:  Yeah.  It’s my favorite part of my job in that every day is different.  We take about 230 different species in a given year, so that’s pretty much anything you’re going to find, you know, hanging out in your backyard anywhere across New England, everything from foxes and coyotes to owls and hawks to baby squirrels to skunks.  You name it and, you know, if it ends up on the wrong side of a human interaction or if it ends up with an illness or, you know, something like that we will take it in at either of our hospitals and try to get them healthy again.   

[0:03:16] MARISA:  Zach, do you ever take in more exotic animals?  Is there like a random lizard that shows up ever?  

ZACH:  You know, we do get a fair amount of random lizards now that you mention it.  So one of our hospitals runs a practice called the Odd Pet Vet and it’s a fee-for-service practice, so it helps – 

MARISA:  The Odd Pet Vet?  

ZACH:  Yes.  The pets are odd, but also the vet is my dad and he is very odd.  

MARISA:  He’s odd, as well?   

ZACH:  Yeah.  But, yeah, we use that to generate funding for, you know, our other services.  But we take anything but dogs and cats so that if you do have a random lizard at your house as a pet or a guinea pig or a rabbit or something that’s not a dog or cat we’ll take that in for low costs and, you know, use the money to help the wildlife and teach.  

MARISA:  Oh, that’s wonderful.  I love that.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  It’s so about 500 species total, but I will tell you, getting back to your first point, a lot of people will find like their neighbor’s escaped lizard or, you know, their neighbor’s pet snake has gotten out.  They think it’s wildlife and they drop it off with us, so we do get a lot of those, as well.  

MARISA:  And what do you do with those types of animals that are dropped off?  It’s not like they come with a collar and a nametag or a tracking device.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  I was just about to say how do you tell it’s like a house snake versus an outside snake?  

ZACH:  Yeah.  If you’ve ever tried to put a collar on a snake it’s pretty difficult.  Most of the time we know that, you know, they’re a domestic species right off the bat and then we’ll call local animal control or kind of put the word out and a lot of times we don’t end up finding the owner, so we have to take the next step and try to find a good home for them.  

CLARICE:  Well, I mean, they’re rehomed, but it’s still a good place.  Kind of shifting a little bit, how did you get involved with the center?  You said that your dad is the Odd Pet Vet.  Was it always a family thing?  

ZACH:  Yes.  For better or worse, my father is a veterinarian and my brother is in veterinary school right now, so actually I grew up in a wildlife hospital and I pretty much swore up and down for my entire childhood that I was never go into the field.  And then I went to school, went to grad school and became a hydrologist and it turns out that was short lived because when the Cape Wildlife Center was going out of business they needed an executive director and I kind of got sucked back in that way.  But I’ll be honest, I couldn’t be happier.  Like I said, it’s never boring and we get to do a lot of different things and help a lot of different people and animals, so no regrets here.  

CLARICE:  So how long have you been in this role now?  

[0:06:00] ZACH:  We just passed my fifth anniversary as the director and since New England Wildlife Center took over the Cape Wildlife Center.  

CLARICE:  Very cool.  Kind of shifting a little bit, I know that you do – do you do a lot of field work as the executive director?  Are you still able to get out into the field, or has that joy been passed on to others?  

ZACH:  Well, as it is with many nonprofits you’ve got to wear a lot of hats, so, yeah.  The short answer is, yes.  We just launched a rescue service, so we’re out doing sort of specialized rescues that might be on the scope of what a normal member of the public could do or maybe assisting animal control or specialized departments, but I’m also a janitor and I’m also a carpenter and I’m also a fundraiser and an accountant and a phone answerer.  It’s how we stay in business.  You got to be flexible.  And like I said, if you guys haven’t figured out already, my attention span is short, so getting to do a lot of little tasks throughout the day is what keeps me engaged and makes me probably the most effective I can be at work.   

CLARICE:  I will vouch.  

MARISA:  You said that you lost a rescue?  

ZACH:  Oh, sorry.  We launched a rescue service.  

MARISA:  Oh, launched.  Okay.  Okay.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  So during COVID first and we’re actually having an emergence of bird flu in New England.  We sort of realized that there was a pretty significant need for people to actually go out into the community and pick up animals.  I mean, most of the time it’s either your local environmental agency or environmental police or animal control or a member of the public that finds an animal, right, so it’s either, you know, semi-governmental or a member of the public.  They pick the animal up.  They bring it in.  But with COVID and people were worried about being exposed, it sort of started a pilot program for us where we were actually going out.  And it ended up snowballing because the thing we can do that most other services or animal controls can’t is we’ll bring veterinary care into the field.  

And so what that means is if you have a, say – this actually happened not too long ago, but say you got a coyote that’s like stuck in a fence or something like that.  It’s a species that can be mildly dangerous to humans just because of the disease potential and, you know, of course the coyote [inaudible].  So we were able to go out with a veterinarian and actually chemically sedate the animal, meaning, make it go to sleep, reduce the stress level and then we can work, you know, to cut it out of the fence and get it emergency triage, stabilize it.  And so by the time it’s on its way back to the hospital, it’s already begun the medical treatment, you know, not dissimilar to like a human EMT.  

MARISA:  Wow. You have dedicated staff that does that type of work?  

[0:08:52] ZACH:  Yes.  It took a lot of fundraising, but we actually just last month hired a full-time person who’s trained up and, you know, she’s a vet tech and a wildlife rehabber and a PAC agent.  

MARISA:  That’s awesome.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  It’s been – yeah, it’s been really good.  We’ve done, I think, 42 rescues in 30 days, so the need is there.  

MARISA:  Wow.  When you do the chemical sedation, are you – for some reason I had this vision of someone in a safari outfit with a dart gun, but that’s probably not accurate, right?  

ZACH:  Well, they never let me wear the cool hat anymore, but we do have an air-powered dart gun.  But to be honest most of the time, you know, as per DEA rules and per Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife rules the drugs have to be loaded and should be administered by a license veterinarian and so most of the time we have experienced handlers and it’s mostly done by an injection, but when the situation arises we are ready.  

CLARICE:  So as long as you’re licensed you can go out with a blow dart?  That’s kind of what I’m hearing.  As long as I have a license, I can do it.  

MARISA:  Yeah.  Are you writing this down, Clarice?  

ZACH:  Yeah.  Yeah.  I will tell you – 

CLARICE:  [inaudible] certification.  

ZACH:  We took a – it’s called safe capture.  It was a chemical capture course.  And I should also mention we do work through the Odd Pet Vet with a number of other institutions like a couple zoos, Boston Museum of Science, you know, larger organizations that have collections and so part of those certifications were geared towards working with larger animals, too.  

CLARICE:  All right.  So the next and I think inevitable question about field work is do you have a crazy story or a favorite story about being out in the field or doing a rescue?  

ZACH:  Well, we’ve gotten into a lot of strange situations.  I’ll tell you one from earlier this week because it’s all I can remember.  So early this week that we’re in we got a call from the Boston firefighter academy out on Moon Island and that’s a little far afield for us.  We were like, okay.  What’s going on.  And so this is where they train firefighters and there’s like special ops rescue teams and it’s sort of a whole island that’s dedicated to police and firefighter training.  

MARISA:  Wait.  It’s an island?  

ZACH:  It is.  I guess it’s technically a little peninsula, but it’s right out – if you know where UMass Boston is in Dorchester, it’s sort of right catty-corner there.  

MARISA:  Okay.  I got you.  

ZACH:  It was my first time there, but it was a very cool place.  And one of their simulation buildings where they were doing confined space drills – so, you know, firefighters were suiting up.  I think they were simulating like car rescues or if they had to go into a building with large air ducts they could go in.  So it was – you know, they were trying to get through smaller areas.  And they called because the trainers were setting up the drill and they might have been doing a dry run and they found an extremely angry raccoon in one of the air vents and it caused pretty significant commotion.  

And, you know, these guys are – they’re good under pressure for sure, so they were able to vacate the building safely, but it was a mom raccoon and she had babies and she was very angry.  So we go over and assist them.  And I can’t even tell you.  The building was very cool.  There was like a fake car crash on the side of it and there were people getting ready to repel off the roof and it was just kind of a chaotic spot for a mom to try to raise a raccoon family.  

So after much fuss we were able to safely get the babies out and then capture mom after the fact, but she – you can imagine in a space that’s designed to have a lot of small passageways with a lot of interior rooms she absolutely had the upper hand because she’d, you know, pop through a hole in the wall and then pop out behind us and then above us.  So we eventually settled on a humane trap and so we were able to take the babies, give them veterinary care, gave them fluids, gave them a meal, trap mom so they feed overnight.  

And then in the state of Massachusetts and I think it’s the same in Rhode Island, you can’t trap wildlife and move them off of the property that they’re located on and so we always have to abide by that.  There’s a number of reasons for it, but basically what we had to do was once we had the whole family contained, find a space spot on the property, which we did.  We let the babies – the door open and then we let mom go.  And we were actually able to, you know, set up trail cams.  We were actually able to watch mom come in and one by one move the babies out of the create to a new spot and so it ended really well.  And I believe they’re back to training over there and the raccoon has hopefully found a slightly less chaotic spot for her family.  

[0:13:44] CLARICE:  Oh, that is wild.  

MARISA:  Great story.  

CLARICE:  All I can picture is these people who are like geared up to repel off a side of a building into a car crash and they just turn a duct and face the raccoon.  Like that’s what’s ruined the day.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  They were pretty jazzed up about it.  And I guess, you know, they had full – these are recruits, I think, people going through the academy for the first time and so they were kind of – they needed that space clear so they could take these folks through because no one should have to deal with angry raccoon call on their first drill.  

MARISA:  And was it that they knew to call you?  Do you do outreach with government?  

ZACH:  We have been around for 30 years or so the New England Wildlife Center.  People know us as a community resource and we do do a fair amount of outreach into the community.  Like I said, we work with lot of local animal control departments and, you know, fire departments find things all the time.  But I will tell you we are also on the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force which is sort of a stakeholder group.  It is about 60 towns and local health can apartments.  We also just got a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection to do oiled wildlife training.  And so yesterday – 

MARISA:  Oh, yeah.  

ZACH:  — spent my whole day out with the DEP doing field drills on how to contain oil and those kind of things.  So over the last few years, we’ve been really ramping up our government partnerships.  And the last program I would highlight that is sort of in that vein and I think introduced us to a lot of people is at our Weymouth location we take – now it’s going to be three groups a year of nonviolent inmates – prereleased inmates and they actually come and we’ll train for six weeks in our facility.  So they come and they learn the basic skills of how to be a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant.  They work right with the animals in addition to do carpentry, in addition to doing office work.  And then once they’re released, we give them a work voucher so they can come back and have sort of a first resume point as part of their reintroduction plan.  

MARISA:  Wow.  

ZACH:  And some we’ve been able to place.  So, you know, we did meet a lot of folks just trying to coordinate that programs, too, and it’s honestly one of our favorites.  It’s such a cool impactful way to connect with these folks and, you know, we get them coming back there time with updates and, you know, their new jobs.  It’s really fulfilling to get to do that.  

CLARICE:  That’s amazing.  That’s really awesome work.  I’m going to shift again.  We’re going to go a little bit more into environmental stuff now.  I know that you said you’ve been doing this for five years as the director.  Have you noticed any environmental changes, you know, from when you started to today?  Has there been any like impacts?  

[0:16:39] ZACH:  Well, you’re going to laugh at me, but, yes.  And I have to – the environmental scientist in me has to say this:  We always have to make the distinction between climate and weather, right.  So in our world so much of the animal admissions and so many of the environmental hazards we’re up against whether it be something like, you know, cytotoxicity in water or, you know, emerging disease outbreaks.  A lot of that is driven by climatic cycles or weather cycles and so obviously there things we’re seeing over five years is a pretty small time scale, but I can tell you a lot of it is weather driven.  But I will tell you the thing I am most suspicious about is squirrels.  

And I’ll tell you in the rehab world I don’t think anybody – I mean, any of the rehabbers listening wouldn’t think this is weird, but, again, it sounds odd to the average person.  But we tend to tell time in our business by squirrel season.  And so for many, many years you could gauge when spring has truly started or when babies are starting to be – parents are starting to be reproductive and having their kids by when you get your first batch of squirrels.  And you can kind of tell when the decline in baby season has begun when you get your last batch.  

And so, you know, growing up years and years, decades, you could get your first batch of squirrels always right around St. Patrick’s day.  Like the  Ides of March was like pretty much guaranteed squirrel season and you could set your watch by it.  And then, you know, the end of September is probably when you get your last batch.  And so over the last five years since I started I believe we are starting to see a longer stretch, meaning that we’re getting squirrels unfortunately earlier and into February, but the really concerning is on the tail end we’re seeing babies all the way up through December.  And I think we even got one in January this year.  

MARISA:  Wow.  

ZACH:  And so, again, this is speculation, something we’d love to do more study on, but my sense is with the milder winters or when you have winters with intense like episodic storms but a generally higher temperature overall there is better ground cover which means there is better access to food sources.  There’s better access to water.  And so my assumption is that the parents have more resources and instead of having one or two clutches a year they’re actually having three and four because they’re getting away with it.  

And so, I mean, that sounds silly.  Squirrels are squirrels, but around here they’re pretty close to the base of our food chain and so you can start to sort of extrapolate from there, you know, what is that going to do to the fox population, the coyote population, the hawk population, the owl population.  And all off a sudden you’re sort of up in our top tier predators, so it’s something we’re watching, we collect lot of data on and something we love to dig in if there’s any grad students or professors out there that want to help us with that one. 

[0:19:43] MARISA:  Wow.  

CLARICE:  I’m still stuck on the sentence batch of squirrels.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  Sorry about that.  That was probably not – that was kind of weird.  

CLARICE:  No.  I love it, though.  This is – oh, I would have never – 

MARISA:  Well, it makes total sense and it’s also really scary that if it is climate change, and I think it is, that your folks are seeing the real-life implications of that effect.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  And it’s becoming the norm.  

ZACH:  Yeah, it is.  

MARISA:  [inaudible].  It’s not good.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  It’s scary.  

ZACH:  It’s very scary.  And I’ll tell you in a less comedic way, you know, a lot of the disease processes we come up against every day and, you know, pretty much anyone in New England does.  You think about thinks like rabies which is a zoonotic disease, meaning, people can get it, distemper, mange, any of those sort of, I guess, endemic diseases that can exert some sort of population control on the wild animals, we tend to get relief from them with the colder weather or, you know, with seasonal change, so it’s usually pretty episodic rises and falls.  But we do, you know, I think start to suspect that we may start to see a change in the distribution of cases which, you know, all this is to say human and pet health is very, very tied as we learned during COVID.  

You can’t really separate wildlife health from human health and human wellbeing, so it’s all stuff we do take really seriously and are watching closely.  And our viewpoint on it honestly now is we are just – we’re trying to treat every individual animal, but every single animal is a learning opportunity, so we’re capturing just as much data as we can on every patient and then, you know, try to synthesize it and share it with other people and especially in different parts of the country or especially in different parts of New England where we can sort of compare what they’re seeing with what we’re seeing and try to get to some of the driving factors.   

MARISA:  If any of our listeners are interested in getting involved, what opportunities do you offer for that?  Is your facility open to the public, that kind of thing?  

ZACH:  So the Weymouth branch is open to the public.  It was built as a wildlife hospital, so it’s all windowed.  You can walk through, look at all the treatments happening and they even have like a folk and blues jam every Friday night, so it’s kind of a community center atmosphere.  The Cape branch will definitely do tours, but they have to be prescheduled.  And then we normally have a fair amount of volunteers, but with COVID and bird flu we’ve knocked down the numbers a little bit.  

So I think if people want to get involved, they can absolutely e-mail me through the website CapeWildlifeCenter.com and I’m the guy that responds.  I’d be happy to try and help them set up a program.  Or any interns listening regardless of age, but if you’re in school and looking for school credit we do offer about 75 internship spots each year to undergrads all the way up through veterinary or post-doc students and that’s a – that’s a really cool way to get your hands dirty and learn firsthand what we’re working on.  

[0:22:55] CLARICE:  Yeah.  Those are some awesome opportunities and experiences right there.  I mean, just the idea of the fact that you guys work so closely with the Odd Pet Vet, that’s not going to be your average internship.  So for people looking for a unique way to meet your credits or if you’ve got the extra time, this is a super worthy cause to volunteer and reach out to.  Also, I wanted to mention so you were talking a little bit about disease impact and how you said that a disease isn’t so much confined to an animal, but obviously it will inevitably affect people, too.  You actually helped cowrite a bill on that.  There’s a different – not so much bird flu, but.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  One of the efforts we have been heavily involved in from an advocacy perspective is – this is going to be a mouthful and then I promise I’ll abbreviate it afterwards, but it’s second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and we call it SGARS for short.  But essentially what it is is it’s the pretty standard rat poison that if you were to – you know, say you got a rat problem in your house or a mouse problem.  You pick up the phone.  You call your local pest control operator.  They come out and they say, okay, I’m going to set you up with some of these boxes.  They put down those big black boxes you see on every street corner.  You go to downtown Providence, you go to downtown Boston, you’re going to see them everywhere if you start looking for them.  

And a lot of the time what’s in those boxes is a bunch of bait pellets and the active mechanism in those bait pellets is that it stops your blood from clotting, right.  And so the way it works is, you know, they try to make a target, but a mouse or a rat goes in there.  They are going to eat a little bit of this poison and the mouse or rat doesn’t die right away, right, because you don’t want mice and rats dying in your walls or dying in your ceiling or whatever and starting to smell, so there’s a latency to it.  

And all of a sudden you have a very sick slow-moving mouse, which if you are an opportunistic or lazy hawk or owl or fox that is looking for an easy meal you probably think you’re getting a close to free lunch.  And so you eat this sick mouse or rat and all of a sudden you have then in turn dosed yourself with this poison, so your blood stops clotting appropriately.  You get sick and then the next mouse or rat you can catch because you’re not feeling well is probably one in that same area and probably one that’s also slow moving.  And so you see this sort of bioaccumulation cycle start where these guys can repeatedly dose themselves over and over.  And the reason we feel so strongly about reducing that particular brand of poison is just because the impacts are so frequent and really horrible for us.  

So, I mean, hundreds of times a year we take in animals that have had this type of exposure.  It’s mostly hawks and owls and eagles and raptors.  And, you know, a lot of the animals out there that are not only important to the whole ecosystem health, but also realize they are nature’s rodent control, right.  So, you know, a great horned owl in our care in a year would probably eat 2,000 mice all by itself.  And so if you poison that animal and then take it out of the environment, not only are you, you know, sort of kneecapping nature’s ability to take care of rodents, but you’re pretty much guaranteeing that you’re going to need to continue putting out poison in your area, too, and so it’s a really hard cycle to break.  

And so the bill we’re working on, which I think now has a tag of HD4600 in Massachusetts legislator, it’s called an act relative to pesticides and it was initiated by Representative Jim Hawkins of Attleboro.  And this bill, it’s not an outright ban on these poisons, but what it will do is it will increase education around them.  I should say, too, these poisons, without getting too boring about it, they’re only licensed to be distributed by pest control operators which means you can technically – if you try hard enough you can buy them on Amazon which is a whole other issue.  

But what it means is when the pest control operator comes to your house, you’re not necessarily reading the back of the label or do you ever really have an opportunity to understand what’s being put out if they don’t take the time to explain it to you.  And so this bill would make every operator give out a sheet to the people just say, you know, here’s what I’m using.  Here are the environmental impacts of it.  And you’d have to sign it and just, you know, make that conscious choice because I will tell you we talk about this all the time and I have never given a talk about it where someone didn’t come up after and say, oh, my God, I’ve never heard of that, I had no idea, or, oh, my God, I’ve been using that poison for years, it just never came up that this is what it was doing.  

And so trying to do it that way and then the other big one for us is record keeping in Massachusetts.  And so people do technically need to keep records on how much and the spatial distribution of where they put the stuff down, but they do it on paper and it goes into a repository and it’s inaccessible pretty much to anyone unless you go in for a, you know, prescribed hour or whatever and you want to look through, you know, thousands and thousands of papers and try to make sense of it.  So this would create an electronic database so at least we can start getting baselines on how much is used, where it’s used, and what the impacts are.  And so those three things in concert we’re hoping will reduce the use of this poison without fully, you know, restricting a consumer’s right to make the choice if they want to, but the hope is that they use safer alternatives which do exist out there.  

[0:28:51] MARISA:  And here in Rhode Island even though that legislation wouldn’t affect people here, you could still as a homeowner or someone that uses a rodent company to try to address an issue you can inquire with the company about what they are using and ask if they have an alternative to something that’s not so poisonous.  

ZACH:  Absolutely.  Yeah.  As a consumer you do have a full choice over that and I’ll tell you most companies carry a bunch of different methods.  There are other poisons out there that are not quite as toxic secondarily.  There are [inaudible] strategies, meaning, you can do prevention, and then snap traps, something like that.  There are a lot of options in the toolbox and our goal is just to move this rat poison to the way back of the toolbox.  

MARISA:  Yeah.   

ZACH:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  Great.  

ZACH:  So that’s in our effort.  

MARISA:  Nice work.  

ZACH:  Oh, thank you.  Yeah.  We are making slow but steady progress on that one.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  

ZACH:  Can I give a plug.  You guys down in Rhode Island, you have an agency called the Wildlife Clinic of Rhode Island down there, too, and we actually just had an opportunity to work with them very recently, but they’re awesome folks that I’m sure would be happy to, you know, assist with advice, or if you find an animal that looks like it has rat poison or toxicity they would be a really good resource to call.  

CLARICE:  Oh, that’s awesome.  Yeah.  I mean, to echo those people at the end of your talks, I had no idea that was a thing and it’s such a seemingly small thing of putting out rat poison for your home can affect this huge chain of animals.  It is really important.  

ZACH:  Absolutely.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  I think if you want to plug again it is bill H3991 for those interested in looking to find out more info about it.  And plug a little bit more about the wildlife center.  Let us know where we can find you, get some resources, learn more about you.  

ZACH:  Sure.  Absolutely.  And so, Clarice, I think because it just got recommended favorably [inaudible] I believe it is now House Docket 4600.  

CLARICE:  Oh, okay.  That is important.  Thank you.  

ZACH:  No problem.  I can send you the link after.  It keeps changing on me and truthfully this is your guys’ area of expertise.  This is a lot of new stuff for me, so I’m learning sort of on the job here how to track these things, but.  So, anyway, yeah, what was I going to do?  Oh, plug the wildlife centers.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  

MARISA:  Where am I?  

CLARICE:  This is that short attention span kicking in.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

CLARICE:  Zach, now is the time where you sell the center.  

ZACH:  Okay.  I’m ready.  All right.  So if anybody out there is interested in learning more about our organization, if you were to find a sick or injured wild animal, you’re interested in a STEM education experience, or you just want to learn more about the natural world or your own backyard, please check out the New England Wildlife Centers, either our Weymouth branch or Cape branch.  We have people standing by seven days a week and we offer a number of experiential programs to bring people from all walks of the community into what we do to try to empower them to protect the natural world.  You can find us at NEWildlife.org or CapeWildlifeCenter.com.  And if you find an injured animal, our front desk line that’s manned seven days a week and an after-hours number is 508-362-0111.  

[0:32:24] CLARICE:  Awesome.  And if you guys want to hear more from Zach, you can reach us at Help@DesautelESQ.  You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  Let us know what you think.  Bring in any questions for Zach.  If you want to hear more specific topics, let us know.  We’ll ask him to come back if he’s able to.  So on that note, thank you again for coming in.  

MARISA:  Thank you, Zach.  

CLARICE:  We’ve learned about batches of squirrels, raccoons in ducts, and all sorts of craziness, so thank you for that.  

MARISA:  Angry animals.  

ZACH:  Yeah.  

CLARICE:  Yes.  

ZACH:  Thank you both.  

MARISA:  Thank you, Zach.  

CLARICE:  All right.  Have a good one, everybody.  

MALE:  Thank you for listening to this episode of Environmentally Speaking.  If you’re in need of an environmental attorney, we are here to help.  Call us at 401-477-0023 or visit our website at www.DesautelLaw.com.  That’s www.DesautelLaw.com

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