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NUTRIA eradication (not for food) getting funding
Jul 24, 2020 07:46 ET

[Reprinted from original]

It looks like California is about to get more money to eradicate giant swamp rats that have infiltrated the Central Valley.

The House of Representatives is voting Friday on a bill that includes a $1.75 million pot of money that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can tap into to kill the rats, called nutria. It also opens up about $300 million in funding to address restoring environments they’ve destroyed.

The fund to kill the rats is an increase of $500,000 over last year’s funding to combat nutria, and it’s the first time California will be able to access the money.

The money was previously slated for Maryland and Louisiana, two states that had huge nutria problems, though Maryland’s population now seems under control. New language allows the federal funding to also be used to combat emerging nutria populations in other states — and California officials say the state needs it.

Nutria, a large South American rodent, were found in Merced County two years ago, alarming California wildlife officials because of the rodents’ potential to harm infrastructure that moves water to Central Valley farms and Southern California cities.

More than 1,500 nutria have been killed in California so far, according to figures from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, an increase from less than 1,000 in February. California officials are hoping they can kill off all the nutria in the state in the next five to seven years.

Full-grown nutria can grow as large as a beagle, devour up to 25 percent of their body weight daily and have up to 200 offspring per year. Without help, officials have estimated there could be a quarter million nutria in California destroying the wetlands and waterways within five years.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, has pushed Congress to allocate more funding to California to deal with the rodents, going as far as bringing a stuffed nutria carcass to a committee hearing to illustrate the problem.

“This is a huge win for farmers and environmentalists in the Valley. Both groups are concerned about the swamp rat invasion and rightly so — if we don’t get these things under control in the next couple years, they will overrun our farms and wetlands,” Harder said. “We brought together Democrats and Republicans to actually get something done in this area. Turns out working together on a common sense problem can actually yield results.”

The House passed his bill to give $12 million to states like California specifically to help with nutria, but that money did not get included in the appropriations bill. Instead, the House is now allowing the existing pot of money to be allocated to other states besides Maryland and Louisiana at the discretion of The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That pot is a smaller amount at $1.75 million, which is specifically meant for killing nutria. That money is awarded to states that apply for it, and can go to funding traps, programs to sterilize nutria and use them to lead trappers back to nests, training dogs to find the giant rodents and public education.

The other $250 million is for programs that are broader than just the nutria issue, but give funding to private landowners who had their property impacted by pests like nutria and other general problems with invasive species.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet marked up their budget bills, but the nutria issue is not controversial and stands a good chance of staying in. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, has been an advocate for funding to kill the rodents that have become a large problem in his home state.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the House was increasing funding to kill nutria by $500 million over last year, to $1.75 billion. The House actually slated $1.75 million for the program, which is an increase in funding of $500,000 over last year