Word has it that legendary actress Greta Garbo could be seen wearing nutria fur coats back in the day, and nutria fur coats can still be found in vintage clothing stores around the world. Nutria, sometimes called swamp rats, were first introduced into the United States in the 1800s to be used in the fur trade. However, when the fur trade collapsed in the mid 1900’s thousands of nutria were released by ranchers who could no longer afford to feed and care for them. This invasive rodent, about half the size of a beaver, damages wetland ecosystems by eating away at their delicate vegetation. Nutria have since been found in at least 20 states.
Maryland’s eastern shore has seen thousands of acres of protective marshland impacted by their destructive feeding habits. To protect the valuable resources of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, The Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Project (CBNEP) began in 2002 to permanently remove invasive nutria from the marshes of the Delmarva Peninsula and to protect, enhance, and restore the aquatic and river ecosystems they damaged.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ (USFWS) Chesapeake Bay Field Office Coastal Program and Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex administer the project, which is funded through the USFWS’ Partners for Fish and Wildlife and Refuge programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program performs the nutria eradication work through an interagency agreement with the USFWS. Other partners in the project include the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Delaware Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and Tudor Farms. CBNEP’s work has led to the removal of nearly 14,000 nutria, almost half from private lands.
With the voluntary cooperation of both public and private landowners, the CBNEP employs multiple techniques as they work through the stages of eradication: conducting surveys to understand the extent of the population; removing the invasive rodents; verifying that that the nutria are gone; and finally, conducting long-term monitoring to prevent re-infestation. Eradication tools include ground surveys, shoreline or boat surveys, trail cameras, monitoring platforms, hair snares, and reports from the public.
Wildlife Services also looks to innovative and new ways to search for this rodent – trained detector dogs sniff out nutria scat or excrement. Since the start of this innovative program, 6 nutria dogs have been trained – the most recent one, Bradie, completed training with her instructor, Wildlife Biologist Trevor Michaels, in May.
Nutria haven’t been detected in the Delmarva Peninsula in 3 years and the program is now in the verification phase. This phase is critical as most eradication efforts fail when they end before the task is fully complete. Long term monitoring should begin by 2020.
While this is good news for Delmarva, other parts of the country have recently discovered nutria thought long eradicated. Nutria have been discovered in the wetlands, rivers, canals and other fresh water habitats in six counties in California. Wildlife Services is working closely with the state’s lead agency, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to respond to this emerging issue with best practices learned from our experience on Maryland’s Eastern shore.
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I heard a long time ago, maybe 5 years ago that nutria are being captured in Louisiana to export to Asian countries for consumption? Is this anywhere near true?
@Penny Mikeman - Thanks for your question regarding our Agency’s work to control the damage from nutria. Our Agency does not capture and transport nutria, or other animals, as a potential food source internationally. Nutria management may be handled at multiple levels and we cannot speak for other Agencies regarding their policies so we recommend you contact the State to determine their policies regarding nutria management.
How are ya'll trying to stop them from spreading to the other wetlands?
@Jacob Appleby - thank you for your comment. Invasive species are detrimental to native ecosystems and native wildlife. Executive Order 13112, signed in 1999, directs Federal agencies to provide leadership in controlling invasive species and preventing their introduction and spread. Our program, Wildlife Services, provides technical assistance as well as direct management for nutria conflicts. In some states, such as Maryland, we have partnered with other Agencies to implement large scale nutria eradication programs as well as working towards developing new ways to detect and monitor nutria. You can see more about our Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Project here: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/maps/sa_wildlife_services/ct_nutria_story_map.
While nutria is an invasive species, in some states they are protected as furbearers. Prior to any control methods being implemented, local wildlife authorities should be contacted.
If it is believed that nutria is sighted, we recommend contacting local wildlife authorities or reporting the sighting to the local Wildlife Services State office at 1-866-4USDAWS (1-866-487-3297).
What do you do with the nutrias you catch?
@emma - thanks for your question. Nutria are an invasive species, which means that they are not native to the United States and cause devastating and widespread damage to the ecosystem. Nutria are humanely euthanized using methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Please visit this story map for more on nutria’s impact to our ecosystems: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/maps/sa_wildlife_services/ct_nutria_story_map.
What do you think would happen if nutrias weren't controlled.
@Emma - thank you for your question. Please check out the link to the story map to understand the impact that unchecked nutria had on the ecosystem in Maryland: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/maps/sa_wildlife_services/ct_nutria_story_map.
My neighbor says they saw one of these go under my deck?! What should I do???
@Wendy - thank you for writing. If you think nutria have been sighted on your property, please contact your local Wildlife Services office at 866-4USDA-WS (866-487-3297) and one of our employees can assist you. For more information about nutria, please visit APHIS’ website: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/operational-activities/SA_Nutria