Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles featuring the Directorate of Public Works.
White Sands Missile Range, in its remoteness, is home to several types of insects and rodents that can sometimes interfere with the local community or the workforce’s mission. The Pest Control team works to keep the community safe and ensure that the workforce can conduct their mission requirements without the hazard that the creatures can bring.
“They keep people safe and bug free. All of these rodents can carry fleas and other types of parasites and my team is helping to get rid of that infestation and keeping people safe,” said George Dill, roads and grounds section supervisor.
The team supports WSMR’s housing area and the workforce area with indoor and outdoor services for insects and rodents. Pest control services range from the control of squirrels, gophers, mice, packrats and insects. They also handle the control of weeds, everything east of Headquarters Avenue.
A misconception the team hopes to debunk is the idea that they kill every rodent they catch. In fact, the only rodents that are killed are mice and rats found inside homes and injured rodents. In the case of mice and rats, there are live traps available for any resident or any member of the workforce to request. Most rodents are released about seven miles outside of the range with the exception of squirrels which are released near Davies Tank.
“People think we kill everything we catch and that’s not true. We always relocate them,” Dill said.
Last year the team saw an excess of rattlesnake calls. A team member said they were receiving an average of two to three calls a week, sometimes more. The problem is sometimes people will call a day or two after they see a rattlesnake in their home or are not monitoring the snake to see where they hide before pest control arrives.
“There are a lot of snakes that we don’t get to,” Dill said.
The team said the type of rodent infestations depend on weather conditions. Due to all the winter and monsoon moisture, rodent populations have exploded. The small rodents are natural prey for snakes. Since many rodents like to harbor indoors and outside homes, more snakes tend to be around that area as well. There has already been a rattlesnake report in the housing area this year.
In early January 2016, the Environmental Office removed a group of 37 rattlesnakes that were hibernating in the tunnel system of the historic Launch Complex 32. Workers stumbled upon the group of snakes while cleaning out the tunnel system. Though the Environmental Division is the primary point of contact for all of all wildlife issues, the pest control shop and DES assists with rattlesnake calls. Though snakes play an important ecological role in controlling rodent population, they can pose a threat to the workforce and need to be relocated.
“Someone needs to remove the vermin and the insects, especially the snakes,” Dill said.
Team members who provide pest control in the housing area also assist in catching stray dogs and cats. Cristina Rodden, wildlife biologist and pest management coordinator, runs the stray animal control program that she developed about a year ago. The stray animal program was developed because there was no longer a veterinarian on post to care for animals. The pest control team and the Directorate of Emergency Services assists in catching stray animals and sheltering them in a facility that was once the Pant and Purr Inn pet boarding facility, owned by FMWR.
When animals are impounded, a contractor is contacted to care for the animals. If the dog or cat is identifiable through a microchip or tags on collar, owners will be contacted and must pick up their pets within 48 hours. If the animal goes unclaimed they are then transported, by the contractor, to the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley. Rodden said, she is also working on developing a new memorandum of agreement with a Las Cruces no-kill shelter, who is willing to assist in finding forever homes for dogs that are unclaimed. Rodden said the number of stray animals sheltered have reduced significantly since the departure of the 2nd Engineer Battalion.
The contractor’s contract is ending in October and the responsibility of catching and caring for the animals will fall solely on the Pest Control team.
“Things are changing, contract is ending. Capturing and caring for stray or feral dogs and cats will now fall primarily on them,” Rodden said.
The team will attend training to learn how to properly capture and care for the animals.