Campaign to Drive Out the Nutria

Sunday, May 8, 2011  |  Updated 9:38 AM EDT
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The nutria, an aquatic rodent, can eat a quarter of its own body weight in plant matter in a day.

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A foreign invader lives in our midst, threatening to destroy this country's roots.

The nutria, a beaver-sized rodent that feeds on marsh grass, has wreaked havoc in Maryland wetlands for decades, and now Maryland lawmakers want federal money to help fight the domestic terror.

Md. Senator Ben Cardin, together with Senator Barbara Mikulski, have co-sponsored a bill that would expand eradication efforts of the nutria in coastal states.  The bill also has the backing of elected officials in Louisiana, Oregon, and several other states.

"I have seen first-hand the damage done by nutria to the wetlands on the Eastern Shore, particularly at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge," Sen. Cardin said.  Maryland environmental officials said the oversized-rodent is responsible for the transformation of thousands of acres of marsh land into mud flats along the Eastern Shore and elsewhere.

Nutrias proliferated in Maryland in the 1940's, when an attempt was made to harvest the animals for their pelts.  The farming project fell through, but the animals from the failed attempt went on to become the first generation of the invasion.

Nutria's can consume 25 percent of their body weight in a day, and they like to feed on the roots of marsh grasses found around Maryland.  With their voracious appetites, the animals can create "eat outs," vast swaths of marshland denuded of plants, which are then susceptible to erosion.

Maryland and other states have been fighting a battle against nutria for years, successfully driving the animal out of some regions.  The new bill presented before Senate would add federal money to the effort, and help fund eradication efforts in seven states, including Virginia, that have been invaded by the rodent.

Sen. Cardin said that both environment and agricultural economy will benefit from stopping this "eating machine."

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