$7 Million Legislation Announce to Battle Nutria Swamp Rats

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

The nutria swamp rat, similar in size of the common beaver, with a very high reproduction rate, is capable of wide destruction to farm waterways. It has gotten so bad in California that Congressman Josh Harder of Modesto has introduced legislation in order to get funding in an attempt to eradicate the invasive pests.

Josh Harder

Congressman Harder

These swamp rats are taking over California. And for those who aren’t familiar with what a nutria is, it is a giant 40-pound rodent that causes flooding, divert water and eat through farm canals destroy the entire wetlands that the Central Valley relies on.

One of the challenges is that they grow exponentially and one female can have 200 offspring a year. “If we don’t nip this in the bud within a couple of years, they’re going to go from seeing one or two here and there to 250,000 of them in the next five years if we don’t nip it in the bud. So that’s why it’s so critical to get this done early,” noted Harder.

Harder is trying to invest $7 million to eradicate this while it is still early. “While we still have time, we’ve seen this nutria problem in two different states. In Louisiana, they did not nip this problem in the bud and now these nutrients are everywhere. You can’t go two yards without seeing one of these rodents in ag country. It’s really disruptive and they have destroyed a lot of the levies and a lot of the wetlands and, and wrecked-havoc on farms all over Louisiana,” Harder explained.

“On the other hand, Maryland has had an eradication program that has been quite successful, now there are no nutria left in that state. What my bill is trying to do is take that Maryland program and extend it into California because we know it works,” he said.

Controlling nutria is done mostly by trapping right now. But what Maryland has done is they catch one, they sterilize it, and then they throw it back into the population. That female then sniffs out all of its mates and then once we have identified the entire den, all the nutrias are eradicated, with an air gun dart, in a humanly way.  “It’s actually a pretty clever program to make sure that you’re getting every single last one because the issue here is because of that exponential reproduction and growth rate, If we don’t get every animal, it’s never going to end. We have to make sure we’re getting down to zero,” Harder said.

And while nutria is similar looking to beavers, beavers do not have 200 offspring a year. Beavers create their own dams. They’re living their peaceful life, but beavers aren’t out there destroying almonds. They’re not out there destroying canals. So, they may look similar, but the nutria is an invasive species and because it grows so quickly, it’s much more important to make sure we’re rooting them out early.

Optimistic the Legislation Will Pass

“I’m very optimistic about it because we have a really strong precedent for this issue. This is a bipartisan issue supported by Republicans and Democrats. We can point to the federal program that has been successful in Maryland.

“And you know, the biggest thing I hear from folks is they say, why should we spend $7 million on this program? And I say, if we don’t spend $7 million today, our farmers are going to be spending hundreds of millions, if not billions,” said Harder, “Over time, because if you look at how much Louisiana is spending right now, they have no hope of eradication. This is a fiscally responsible measure because it’s going to prevent major problems and expenses.”

Nutrias were originally introduced to the United States as part of the fur trade in the late 1800s but were eradicated from California in the 1970s. The species was rediscovered in the Central Valley in 2017. There have been 531 nutrias removed from the Central Valley since this first sighting.