Nutria eradication bill is headed to president
[Reprinted from original]
A bill that passed out of Congress this week and now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature would broaden the fight against nutria, an invasive rodent that has long plagued Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.
Co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, the bill would expand the Nutria Eradication and Control Act to include all states — not just Louisiana and Maryland, which were the focus of nutria population control measures when the act was passed in 2003.
Since then, the orange-toothed critters have chewed their way through wetlands far beyond the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast and are now spreading across Oregon and California.
If signed by the president, the bill would triple the amount of federal money available to fight the spread of nutria, which were introduced to Louisiana from South America nearly a century ago. The federal government currently budgets $4 million each year to support nutria hunting and trapping programs. The bill would make $12 million available each year until 2025.
Nutria are one of many factors contributing to rapid land loss along Louisiana's coast, including oil and gas exploration, sea level rise, soil subsidence and the loss of replenishing sediment since the Mississippi River was brought under control with levees. Gnawing away the roots of plants, nutria leave little to hold fragile marshes in place. Nutria damaged nearly 22 square miles in Louisiana last year, adding to about 40 square miles of coast the rodent has turned into open water over the past 20 years, according to the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Graves called nutria “incredibly awful creatures.”
“Look, we’ve tried to teach them abstinence, we’ve tried to negotiate with them,” he joked. “We’ve tried everything, and they will not stop proliferating.”
He said the bill could put more money into bounty programs, considered one of the most effective means of curbing nutria populations in Louisiana. The state had been offering $5 per nutria tail, but increased the bounty to $6 before the 2019-2020 hunting season.
About 246,000 nutria tails worth $1.47 million in bounty payments were collected from nearly 260 hunters and trappers last season. That’s more tails than the previous three seasons, but far lower than the record of 446,000 in 2009-2010 and the annual average of 310,000.
The bill garnered bipartisan support, passing the U.S. Senate unanimously on Wednesday.
“Nutria are a huge threat to our farms, our water infrastructure and our native ecosystems,” said co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Josh Harder, D-Calif. “I want to thank Congressman Graves for working with me on this bipartisan bill to help protect both of our districts from the swamp rat menace.”