Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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An invasive nutria rat stands in the marsh near Venice, La., on Feb. 27, 2021. After a two-decades-long, $30 million effort to trap and kill the invasive species, wildlife experts now have claimed victory in eradicating the species from shores along the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. (Photo by Sophia Germer/The Advocate via AP)

By Dana Hedgepeth

Washington Post

Washington — They look like scruffy, oversized rats armed with large, beaver-like orange teeth and flat noses. They’re called nutria, and they’ve ravaged thousands of acres of marshland on the Delmarva Peninsula that stretches along the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

But after a two-decades-long, $30 million effort to trap and kill the invasive species, wildlife experts have claimed victory in eradicating it from shores along the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teamed up with several agencies – including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the Maryland DNR – along with 700 landowners and enlisted trained trappers and wildlife experts to catch and kill about 14,000 invasive nutria that had proliferated in the Delmarva area, a 170-mile stretch that crosses the three states.

Now, seven years after the last nutria was caught and killed, experts have officially declared the animals gone – at least for now. There are worries that nutria could creep back into parts of central Maryland from points along the James River in southern Virginia, where they have been spotted.

Still, the eradication effort stands out as a wildlife feat, experts said, because of its large scale and success in eliminating such a pesky, destructive rodent.

“It’s a rare success story for an invasive species,” said Trevor A. Michaels, who headed the nutria eradication project for USDA Wildlife Services. “Nutria are notoriously hard to deal with, and it’s very hard to get rid of them.”

Known formally as Myocastor coypus and commonly called the “menace of the marsh,” nutria are bad for ecosystems. They weigh about 20 pounds and live in burrows along rivers, lakes, and streams in marshlands, and unlike muskrats that eat only the tops of plants, nutria are notorious for devouring entire plants – stems and roots.

Without plant roots, the marsh eventually won’t have enough food and habitat for other animals, including birds such as egrets and herons, fish, oysters, and crabs. Plus, plant roots help prevent erosion in a marsh and act as a barrier to keep storm surges from coming too far inland, wildlife biologists said. With a growing nutria population, plus sea-level rise, wetlands along the Delmarva were at increased risk.

At one point, experts said, there may have been some economic benefit to nutria in the Mid-Atlantic, but because they’re not native to the area, they caused too much environmental damage.

Originally from South America, nutria were introduced into the Delmarva area in the 1940s and were bred for their fur and meat. They’re also problematic in parts of North Carolina and Louisiana. Because they’re easy to breed, trapping and harvesting them for their fur was once lucrative.

But when nutria fur fell out of favor, many were released or escaped into the wild. Trappers had little incentive to harvest them, experts said, but because they reproduce fast and have no natural predators in the region, their population exploded. Nutria breed about three times a year, and a female usually has up to 14 juveniles in one litter.

“They bred so efficiently, and there’s no natural predators in our system to remove them, so there was nothing combating their growth,” Michaels said. “They were only dying through old age or in extremely cold winters.”

In 2002, experts launched a long-term plan to tackle the problem along the Delmarva. They used highly trained dogs to track the rodents by detecting them through their scat, then set traps to catch and kill them.

Once the bulk of them were killed, officials wanted to make sure they hadn’t missed any smaller populations, so they used tracking collars – something that had not been done before in battling nutria.

“They’re very gregarious, so they’ll seek out one another in low populations,” Michaels said. They caught some nutria alive, spayed and neutered them, then outfitted them with GPS tracking collars.

“They did exactly what we were hoping they would do,” Michaels said. “They led us to smaller populations that we had missed.”

By 2015, wildlife biologists said the last known nutria in the Delmarva area was captured and killed. Since then, they monitored the area to be sure nutria were gone before declaring them officially eradicated from the Delmarva Peninsula this fall.

NORTH DAKOTA
Bismarck Man in Pickup Truck Hits Moose, Isn’t Seriously Injured

Bismarck, N.D. (AP) — A Bismarck man escaped serious injury after he struck a moose with his truck.

Steve Fleckenstein, 50, was heading home from work at the Falkirk Mine around 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 27 when he hit the bull moose on U.S. Highway 83 between Baldwin and Wilton, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Burleigh County Sheriff’s Maj. Jim Hulm said the animal was a “smaller bull moose” but it still caused major damage to Fleckenstein’s 2013 Chevrolet pickup. The vehicle had to be towed to a body shop.

“It took me and the (responding) deputy all we had to get (the moose) off the shoulder and into the ditch,” Fleckenstein said.

The sheriff’s department can issue a tag that allows a person to keep an animal killed in a vehicle crash. If the driver or no one nearby wants the carcass, deputies will call around to find a taker, Hulm said.

In this instance, a deputy ended up claiming the moose.

It’s unclear how often moose-vehicle collisions occur in North Dakota. Crashes with wildlife don’t have to be reported unless the vehicle is disabled or someone is killed or hurt, according to state transportation officials.

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