photo: pest control device next to an entry door

Photo: A pest control device placed near a building entrance/egress point at the Folsom office. Photo by Kristen Dalldorf

Pest control devices prove effective at facilities

Pest control is an important aspect of facility operations that goes overlooked by most employees. When it works well, most people won’t even think about it. When it fails, it can be impossible to ignore.  

Pests can cause property damage, carry diseases, and even disrupt or destroy critical systems. This is a concern that WAPA takes seriously. Reliability of the bulk electric system is paramount and requires the attention and expertise of hundreds of employees across the organization every day. This reliability being threatened by a rodent, for instance, is unacceptable. 

Rodents can prove especially problematic at unstaffed facilities, where employees may not immediately notice an infestation. Historically, WAPA’s facilities have used poison bait to manage vermin, but that solution introduced problems of its own and hasn’t always proven to be effective. 

For instance, mice must visit the bait box repeatedly in order to ingest a lethal dose of bait. Additionally, poisoned mice and rats could end up dying in ductwork or other areas in which they remain unnoticed until they decompose. Even worse, they could be eaten by other animals, resulting in inadvertent harm or death to non-target species. 

In 2019, Desert Southwest employees began experimenting with alternative solutions to their struggle against rodent infestation at a substation in Cochise County, Arizona. The solution suggested by Headquarters biologist Tim Langer was more humane than poison, more reliable than snap traps, and more effective than other solutions deployed in the past.  

The newer, mountable devices use bait to entice rodents to stick their heads up into a vertical tube. When the rodent climbs high enough, it triggers a striker powered by a carbon dioxide cartridge, which instantly kills the pest. The carcass then slides down out of the tube to be collected or scavenged later, and the trap automatically resets. 

The unit fires 24 times without human intervention, which means it doesn’t have to be frequently monitored or maintained. A recent upgrade even comes with an optional feature that allows for remote monitoring of the device, particularly handy for some of WAPA’s remote locations.

Illustration: a diagram showing how the automatic trap captures rats and mice.
An automatic rat/mouse trap which uses non-poisonous lures.
Non-toxic animal control ensures that other animals like squirrels, dogs, cats and/or birds do not suffer negative consequences.

Desert Southwest ordered 15 of the units to test their efficiency and learned quickly that they might indeed be a viable solution. Shortly after installing two units at an Arizona substation, where they had problems with rodents interfering with air conditioner filters, crews found a number of packrats that had already been exterminated.  

Other facilities across WAPA had promising results as well, drawing attention from other sites facing similar concerns with rodent residents. Rocky Mountain also deployed several units for testing, and employees have been pleased with the results.  

“They are definitely doing their job,” said Electronic Integrated Systems Mechanic Joshua Christianson. “I’ve had to swap out the carbon dioxide cartridges on the busier ones.” 

Christianson found that one problem was the fact that some of the rodents were too small to stick their heads into the traps. He worked with Langer to develop a simple solution.  

“I just fill the freestanding bases with gravel and put a rock or two under the wall-mounted ones,” he said. “I think the only problem I have noticed is that one on a freestanding base keeps getting knocked over by something. I’m assuming it’s either a marmot trying to get the bait or a scavenger removing carcasses. Filling it with gravel does the trick for the most part.”  

Even with this small inconvenience in mind, the devices have continued to prove effective.  

“They still work when they are tipped over, from the looks of it,” he said. 

He also noted that the devices could be a good investment when compared to traditional traps, as they can fire multiple times before they need attention. 

“Having a craft employee go check and reset traps after every kill isn’t free,” Christianson said. “That time adds up, and I think these will eventually pay for themselves in places where we have major rodent problems.” 

He mentioned that the number of kills had tapered off since the first two months after installation, demonstrating that there are notably fewer rodents attempting to make their homes in the facilities. Christianson also found that the devices were more enticing to pests than other solutions have been.  

“Our inside glue traps are mostly empty lately,” he said. “That tells me the new devices are getting most of them before they can try to make it inside.” 

For his part, Langer – who helped to identify these devices as a potential solution in the first place – is optimistic. Not only because they seem to be working, but because the success demonstrates the value of partnership across WAPA. 

“Everybody faces their own obstacles and issues, but solutions exist, somewhere,” Langer said. “When we are comfortable enough to ask the question and solicit answers, we might find that somebody in another region or another program can step in to help. Finding and testing these devices were the product of discussions that may end up solving a problem we’ve been dealing with for decades. It’s one more win for collaboration.” 

“The silos and workload can sometimes cause people to perceive that improvements are difficult to impossible,” said Supervisory Environmental Protection Specialist Sean Berry. “This is proof that we have a lot to offer and we should continue to speak up when we have a solution.” 

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Last modified on March 12th, 2024