Officials in North Riverside say efforts to convince residents to stop feeding wildlife in order to combat a growing rat infestation problem in the village have fallen on deaf ears.

As a result, if residents continue to do so, they now face a fine of up to $250 for each offense.

On Nov. 1, North Riverside trustees voted unanimously to pass a new law that expressly prohibits anyone from feeding wildlife “by placing or leaving any food, feed or seed at the exterior of any public or private property.”

The law makes an exception for elevated bird feeders, but even then residents must make sure they aren’t an attractive nuisance for wildlife. The law orders the removal of “any accumulation of food, feed or seed spilled onto the ground or surfaces from elevated bird feeders.”

While those violating the new law won’t face immediate fines, said Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti during a discussion of the subject during a meeting of the village board’s development committee on Oct. 25, they are a distinct remedy for those who continue to ignore village warnings.

“We wouldn’t start off ticketing people. We’d start off with a warning and giving them the education,” Scarpiniti said. “But if they don’t take care of the problem and the problem is clearly on private property, then the village has the ability to then step up enforcement.”

Rat problem growing

The ban on feeding wildlife is directly tied to an ongoing effort to combat the spread of rat infestations, something officials say has worsened despite efforts to communicate the problem to residents through the village’s quarterly newsletter, public statements by elected officials and efforts to educate those who the village has identified as feeding wildlife.

“The village has received an increase in the number of calls and complaints,” Scarpiniti told trustees. “Whereas before the rodent issue was primarily identified in the commercial district … they’ve actually now started to migrate into the residential areas.”

Over the past year and a half or so, North Riverside has employed a company called First Illinois Systems to identify the scope of and abate the problem, spending about $20,000 to do so during that time.

Chris Wasicki, an account technician for First Illinois Systems, said he’s trying to establish a buffer zone on the east side of the village and that Berwyn was the source of the problem.

Getting that buffer zone established will mitigate the rat problem further inside the village, Wasicki said, but the continued feeding of wildlife by North Riverside residents was hampering those efforts.

“The first thing is to just acknowledge the problem and get the homeowner to acknowledge the problem and then to tackle it,” Wasicki said. “We’ve found people where I can already tell are going down that road where the only way we’re going to control it is through fines and enforcement.”

Exterminator program coming

The wildlife feeding ban is just the first part of a more ambitious effort to control rats that will begin in 2022.

In the coming weeks, North Riverside trustees are also expected to approve an amendment to the municipal code that will establish a requirement for commercial and residential property owners to abate rodent infestations.

In the case of commercial properties, the village will require them to register the extermination company they are using with the village and First Illinois Systems will then ensure that company meets standards for abatement, with those falling short losing their local licenses to operate.

In the case of residential property infestations, the village will be able to provide a list of registered exterminators to homeowners to abate those issues. The village is likely to also include some sort of reimbursement for a portion of the homeowners’ expense in abating their rodent infestation. If those infestations go unmitigated, commercial and residential property owners could face fines.

Scarpiniti said requiring private property owners to abate problems on their own land will help solve the growing problem.

“The abatement program cannot be just the village putting traps out when we get complaints,” Scarpiniti said. “Without an active exterminator program and requiring [residents] to take care of the issue and have a buy-in … financially, they don’t really care, because they’re not paying for it.”