Va., NC Seek to Stop Giant Rodent Population Boom - Outdoors - NewsObserver.com
Weighing up to 20 pounds, with orange teeth and an appetite that can reduce wetlands to barren mud flats, the South American nutria is spreading across North Carolina and Virginia - and wildlife officials, trappers and even conservationists say the critter that looks like a beaver and eats like a hog has got to go.
“They’ll go into a marsh and they’ll just clean out all the vegetation in an area and you’ll have these bare spots,” said Dennis Stewart, senior biologist at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. “They’ll just destroy a marsh.”
Nutria, brought to the U.S. as part of fur-farming operations, have long been a plague in Louisiana, where a bounty on the rodents was established in 2002.
Now their population is booming in North Carolina and Virginia, where they were first spotted decades ago. The water-loving animals have crossed state lines and come far inland. They’ve been sighted on the outskirts of Wake County, more than 100 miles from the shore.
Officials in Virginia have launched an effort to identify the watersheds and other areas where nutria are most common, by having members of the public report sightings to the website cmiweb.org. Wildlife experts believe the populations in Virginia and North Carolina are related, so once the nutria are mapped, officials in both states, along with the federal government, private trappers and other groups, hope to move onto the next phase: making the mid-Atlantic a nutria-free zone, or as close to that ideal as possible.
“If we’re going to try to eradicate these things, we need as many partners as we can get,” said Michael St. Germain, project supervisor at the Conservation Management Institute in Blacksburg, Va., which is helping to lead the effort. “It’s not like they respect political boundaries or state borders.”
The problem is even getting attention in Washington, where lawmakers have introduced a bill to fund enhanced nutria eradication efforts in seven states, including North Carolina and Virginia.