- Associated Press - Monday, August 14, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana is recruiting coastal landowners, hunters and trappers for a program to fight the nutria - an invasive rodent that eats so much aquatic vegetation that it threatens swamps and marshes.

The state estimates that nutria denuded nearly 6,000 acres of fragile marshland this year in spite of a bounty program to control the fast-breeding animals. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is encouraging registration in the program.

A lot of private property isn’t registered, and the owners are missing a chance to protect their property and the coast, biologist Catherine Normand said Friday.

Nutria eat constantly, demolishing plants whose roots hold wetlands together. And only about 15 percent of the land eligible for the program has been enrolled, Normand said.

Nutria are aquatic rodents related to guinea pigs, and known in most of the world as coypu. They have orange buck teeth, webbed feet and long naked-looking tails, and weigh an average of 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms). They were eating an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 acres (32,400 to 40,500 hectares) of marsh plants a year before the program began. Damage for the past five years is estimated at 4,600 to 6,500 acres (1,900 to 2,600 hectares) a year.

The program has removed nearly 5 million nutria over the past 15 years. The incentive is a $5 payment for each nutria killed. Landowners who want to collect the bounty can hunt or trap the rodents themselves. The department can connect others with interested hunters and trappers.

It has averaged 330,000 a year during the trapping season, which runs from Nov. 20 to March 31, but this year hunters and trappers turned in 216,000 tails, she said.

“That’s a hundred-thousand more nutria who spent the year eating and reproducing and eating some more,” she said. “So we would not be surprised if next year we see more damage” than the estimated 5,900 acres of marshland “eaten out” this year.

The problem with this year’s nutria harvest was that a one-week winter freeze just turned the marsh plants brown, giving the brown nutria more camouflage, rather than knocking them down like a longer freeze would, Normand said.

The largest number turned in by one person was 14,843; the smallest was two.

Normand said 384 hunters and trappers applied for the program, but only 228 turned in tails. A survey indicated that most who didn’t participate just couldn’t find the animals, she said.

Information about the program can be found at https://nutria.com/site.php . Applications for hunters and trappers will be available there in September.


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