Monday, October 24, 2011

Kill a Small Furry Animal and Save the Bay!

Awww, it's so cute!
After more than 10 years of hunting and attempting to remove invasive populations of nutria throughout Maryland, one final push is being made to eradicate the species locally. Over the next few years, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will begin traveling down the Wicomico River seeking out remaining nutria populations.

“In surveying wetlands on the Wicomico River, our staff discovered some nutria in two different locations,” said Steve Kendrot, district supervisor in the USDA’s Wildlife Services Program. “The next step is for us to conduct a complete survey of the watershed.”

Nutria can eat up to 25 percent of their body weight in plants and roots per day, destroying wetlands by turning them into mud flats. During the past decade, the Maryland Nutria Project has removed the species from 150,000 acres in five counties.

“Although eradicating nutria is an extremely daunting task, it is merely a means to an end,” said Leopoldo Miranda, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office. “The ultimate goal is to safeguard and restore the ecological integrity of Chesapeake Bay wetlands.”

The semi-aquatic rodent traveled to the East Coast from South America in the 1940s.
Since then it has caused an estimated $4 million in damage annually at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that figure could reach $30 million per year by 2050 if the beaver-sized creature is not killed off.
Amusingly one of our native rodents, the American Beaver, has become a pest in South America - turn about is fair play, I suppose.

I'm dubious of the ability of a program like this to be able to find and eliminate all of the individuals; finding every single last mating pair, or single pregnant female of a rodent could be pretty tough; how is that likely to work?
To find remaining populations, the program has neutered, tagged and released several nutria in hopes they will lead scientists to larger groups of nutria.

“Because nutria are very social animals, they will seek out other nutria,” Bannerman said.
OK, that's pretty damn sneaky.  But if all else fails, I'm sure Skye would be willing to give it try.

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