A dead rat festers in a parking lot in Milford July 22, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / The Penobscot Times

MILFORD, Maine — A small Maine town’s war on rats became more complicated after a resident was found to be feeding wildlife — adding to the ever-growing rat problem.

Residents have been complaining about the rats in Milford for weeks and routinely report killing them by the armful. The rat problem has left many frustrated as local officials have said there is nothing the town can do to address the problem — until now.

During the Milford Selectboard meeting Tuesday night, fire chief Josh Mailman said town health officer and assistant fire chief Chris Liepold had found that a resident on Pine Street was feeding wildlife in her backyard.

The pile of corn and sunflower seeds was approximately 20 feet wide and 12  to 12 1/2 inches deep, Mailman said.

One resident installed a game camera near the pile of food to see what animals were eating, and so far there have been images of deer, coyotes, bears and “a lot of rats,” he said.

A dead rat festers in a parking lot in Milford July 22, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / The Penobscot Times Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

The town may be able to take action against the homeowner, such as forcing her to clean up the pile of food, Mailman told the Selectboard Tuesday.

Mailman and Liepold checked with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to see if leaving food for animals in this way is breaking any state laws. As far as they can tell, it’s not, Mailman said.

Food sources like this are particularly potent for breeding colonies of rats, according to Griffin Dill, an integrated pest management professional at the University of Maine.

When it comes to rat problems, every single person in a community needs to do their part to keep their properties clean and avoid things like providing food sources that could attract rats, Dill said.

“It really does come down to a neighborhood or community-wide effort to ensure that [rats] don’t become a problem, and if they do become a problem, it has to be dealt with on a larger scale than just an individual homeowner,” he said. “If there’s one person who is not keeping up their end of the bargain, the problem is going to be an immense challenge.”

Typically, large rat populations tend to develop for several reasons, but human behavior is a key part of that, Dill said.

Previously, the town’s rat problem was in the Village area, which stretches from Bradley Road north, following the Penobscot River, to where the river branches around Orson Island. Going east, the area encompasses Pine Street and portions of County and Call Roads.

The concentration of rodents is around a smaller section of the Village area from Ferry Street to the intersection of Main and County roads, Mailman said.

While it’s now more tangible to point to a pile of food as a source of the rat problem, complaints originated close to the river, but overall, Milford’s dance with the pesky creatures isn’t unique, Dill said.

“I think there’s a legitimate cause for concern — we’re not in the worst area,” he said. “But, if we continue to see warmer and mild, short winters, then it’s only going to exacerbate the issue.”

These warmer winters have been a more recent development in Maine and one that seems to have an impact on rat populations, Dill said.

“Rats generally have somewhere around four to six litters of young per year, and that really slows down throughout the winter,” Dill said. “In mild winters, they continue breeding throughout and we can see these kinds of explosions of rats, based on that increased breeding availability.”

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...