Neighborhood rat population swells following warm weather, construction

Media Credit: Katie Causey | Photo Editor
More rats than usual are on the loose in Foggy Bottom, which neighbors blame on warmer weather this year. Neighbors are planning public education events to remind community members how to prevent rat infestations.

Neighbors say rats have been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather in D.C. this winter.

Instead of hibernating this winter, Foggy Bottom residents said rats in the area continued to roam the streets longer than usual because of the warm weather. Neighbors say they are planning a community education meeting on Feb. 9 to teach residents and students how to prevent the rat infestations by cutting the rats off from food sources and throwing food away instead of leaving it out.

Marina Streznewski, the president of the Foggy Bottom Association and a long-time neighbor, said she has noticed an increase in the rat population in the beginning of the winter season. She said typically the rats hibernate or die as the temperatures drop, but as weather stayed warmer for longer this year, the rats also stuck around.

“They’re never going to go away entirely. They live underground, eat absolutely everything and don’t need much food to survive, so it’s just a matter of keeping it down to a somewhat manageable level,” Streznewski said.

Streznewski said she walked around Foggy Bottom with members of the D.C. Department of Health several weeks ago to search for rat nests and get more information about the infestation. They located the rats’ nests in the neighborhood to be able to gauge the challenge in minimizing rat populations, she said.

“The very warm winter has led to an increase in rat infestations. It’s bad over here,” Streznewski said. “There are more rats. To my mind, they’re bigger.”

Two years ago, Streznewski led an initiative for the D.C. government to combat rodents on the streets after her dog died from a disease transmitted from rat urine.

She added that GW students have left food outside or occasionally feed birds, which encourages the rats to stay because they eat the food instead of the birds. She has asked the Department of Health rodent experts to instruct residents not to leave food outside.

“We have to get people to stop feeding the birds,” Streznewski said. “Really, they’re feeding the rats.”

Marcus Williams, the director of communications and community relations for the D.C. Department of Health, said in an email that the rodent control division of the agency has noticed an increase in the number of rats in Foggy Bottom, but has not noticed an increase in rat size. He said the average rat size in D.C. is one pound, but can appear larger when they are threatened because they puff up their fur.

“DOH is working diligently to address the rat problem one neighborhood and one block at a time,” he said. “We believe that one rat is too many and will do everything we can to reduce and ultimately eliminate rat populations in our neighborhoods.”

Williams said the warm winter, construction projects in the area and community members’ actions could all potentially contribute to the increasing rat population in Foggy Bottom.

“We will discuss what residents can expect from the District to address the growing rat population and how residents can assist with reducing the prevalence of rats,” Williams said.

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