MILFORD, Maine — Forty-four rats. That’s the number of rodents one resident said they killed in a single week in Milford.
On Facebook, a resident shared a photo — five dead rats lined up next to each other.
“Another 8 today,” they said in the post.
Residents say their town is under attack and their adversary is a cunning one. Experts say rats are some of the most difficult to manage and once you have an infestation, it’s too late.
Despite residents raising their concerns to the town, officials said they can’t do anything, leaving Milford residents to their own devices to find cost effective solutions to deal with an influx of rats.
Milford Fire Chief Josh Mailman said there’s no doubt about it: Milford has a rat problem, largely confined to the village area. But there’s not much that can be done by the government alone.
Sarah Commeau, the Milford Selectboard’s administrative assistant, said during the board’s meeting Tuesday that the town office has gotten countless calls, but because the problem is largely on private property the town can’t use taxpayer dollars to find a fix.
Instead, Commeau has directed people to contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. But even state wildlife experts can’t offer much help.
Despite the strangeness of a colony of rats running through yards and at times the streets of Milford, the town isn’t alone, according to Keel Kemper, a regional biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“Is Milford the only community that has rat problems? Absolutely not. I know people who are in the [pest control] business who are quite busy all over, but particularly the coast of Maine,” Kemper said.
Rats present a difficult situation, Kemper said. They’re hard to catch, quickly multiply and are often a sign of a deeper issue.
“If you have a serious rat problem then you really have to address the underlying cause which is usually sanitation, keeping things clean,” Kemper said. “Rats don’t usually show up to places that are well maintained.”
One possible reason behind an influx of rats is that as more people were forced to get takeout and make food at home, the rodents were naturally attracted to the leftovers in the trash can, he said.
“We literally saw a movement of rats from the downtowns out to the suburbs, because you got that big trash bag with all those empty plastic or styrofoam containers with leftover chicken lo mein in them,” Kemper said. “We have seen that for sure.”
Another theory is that the rats must be coming from the Penobscot River — a guess that Kemper said is not correct unless the rats plaguing Milford are muskrats.
Old abandoned buildings along any body of water are prime rat habitats, which could be a source of the river rat misnomers, Kemper said. But based on his expertise, he would guess what people are seeing are likely brown or black rats.
“Every rat has to have water, but usually they can get water out of their food or puddles. Water is not a limiting factor for them,” Kemper said. “It’s not like they’re all going out to the river because they need the water.”
Kemper said he’s unsure what the association of rats with water is in Milford’s case, but there is certainly a problem along the coast. Specifically, Kemper said there is an issue for Rockland restaurants that are on the waterfront, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the ocean. Rather there’s a readily available food source.
It’s important to get a grasp on a rat problem quickly because the rodents could pose health risks and are known to be destructive, he said. But more importantly, a population of rats can grow quickly.
“Here’s the thing — a rat becomes sexually mature at six weeks old, so think about how prolific that can be,” Kemper said.
The best thing residents can do is to contact a professional to get some help and to pay extra attention to not leaving trash out for a long time, securing compost piles correctly and addressing any other sanitation problems that may be present, Kemper said.
Milford residents have taken this to heart, with some contacting pest control experts, while others want the town to step up and do something.
One resident said the town should seek out a pest control service to deal with the issue while others have urged residents to speak up at the next selectboard meeting on July 20.
Chief Mailman said the town has spoken with pest control experts who have said the town can exterminate all the rats they want, but ultimately the reason the rats are there needs to be addressed.
Yet that reason isn’t clear — it could be garbage, chicken coops, really anything, Mailman said.
Kemper offered a word of caution to those interested in trying to tackle a rat problem themselves — be careful with rat poison or substances that can be toxic to other animals.
“At fish and wildlife, we’re concerned with all wildlife. You can go down to the store and get a box of rat poison and put it out there but then you’ve got rats that are poisoned out on the land and something’s eating it,” he said. “Then you know, the red-tailed hawk is over there dead in the ditch. Poison does have a place, but it has to be contained and directed.”
For now, it seems the residents of Milford are on their own to figure out what to do with the rats.