Louisiana losing war on nutria

spectr17

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State is losing war on nutria.

Baton Rouge Advocate

All efforts to stop nutria from eating everything green in Louisiana appear to be failing.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries keeps trying, but is making little headway in controlling the expanding nutria population.

Even a federally supported bounty on the big, orange-toothed rodents hasn’t put a dent in the nutria population, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries officials told a legislative committee recently.

The hungry nutria are eating away at our state’s vanishing marshlands, damaging an estimated 100,000 acres a year and leaving them vulnerable to erosion.

The furry rodents also burrow into the banks of canals and bayous, weakening man-made and natural levees. When high water comes, the levees break and cause more erosion.

Nutria also destroy mating and nesting areas for birds, and their digging creates muddy water conditions in areas where clear water supported oyster beds and saltwater fish.

For several years, the department has been trying to encourage people to eat nutria. The meat is nutritious — higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken. Some say it tastes a bit like rabbit. But not even south Louisiana residents — who generally will figure a way to cook and eat almost anything — have accepted the nutria as everyday table fare.

The department also has promoted nutria fur. The fur is thick and soft, but the market price for it never took off and is now at a low point.

As a result, the nutria population continues to grow. Experts say some 500,000 must be killed each year to control the population. Wildlife and Fisheries set a more modest target of doing away with 120,000 nutria this year. It appears Wildlife and Fisheries will fall far short of that goal. A department official told a legislative committee that trappers brought in fewer than 30,000 of the creatures.

As is their wont, lawmakers on the committee had their own solutions to the problem, ranging from all-out war on the nutria to paying pest-control companies to eradicate them.

"Maybe we ought to spend $2 million on bullets," Sen. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, said. He suggested the possibility of making the hunting season on nutria year-round.

This is the first year there is a legal hunting season on nutria at all. In the past, the only way to legally kill nutria was with a trapping permit for their pelts and meat or with a nuisance permit that allowed landowners to kill the pests on their property.

However, the Legislature adopted a bill during the regular session this year that allows a nutria hunting season, and Wildlife and Fisheries set the season for Sept. 1, 2001, to Feb. 28, 2002, with no limit on the number that may be killed.

Trappers wanted a bag limit on the nutria, saying the hunting season will cut into the number they trap and sell for fur and meat later in the year when the fur is prime.

Wildlife and Fisheries pays incentives to trappers and meat processors for each nutria caught and used for food.

Still the beasts proliferate.

So Wildlife and Fisheries put out a request for proposals Monday seeking a contractor or contractors to further push the nutria meat marketing program.

The contractor will be expected to provide information to the public on nutria meat by attending festivals, conventions and special events to educate the public on the value of nutria meat, to promote the nutritional value of nutria meat, to provide material for teachers and schools on nutria, to "position nutria meat as a delicacy" and expand its markets, and to create positive publicity for nutria meat through partnerships with organizations and food companies.

Deadline for the proposals to be submitted is 4 p.m. Dec. 28, and the contract is scheduled to be awarded Jan. 11.

Maybe the contract will help. Maybe the open hunting season will help. Maybe not.

Maybe it’s time to include nutria as a target in the war on terrorism and bring military forces to bear.
 


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