Nutria Project Excludes County

OCEAN CITY – Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) this week introduced legislation to pump millions of federal dollars into an expanded nutria eradication effort across Maryland, but even if approved, none of the funding will be headed to Worcester and the coastal bays because the area inexplicably does not have a problem with the voracious wetlands munchers.

Nutria arelarge, semi-aquatic rodents often described as “eating machines” that chomp as much as 25 percent of their body weight in wetlands plants each day. The highly reproductive species has devastated wetlands across Maryland and other coastal states including Louisiana, turning them into barren mud flats that cannot be re-vegetated.

This week, Cardin introduced legislation to expand existing nutria eradication programs in Maryland and Louisiana and create new programs in other coastal states including Delaware and Virginia. The bill calls for $4 million each per year over a five-year period for Maryland and Louisiana and $1 million a year for the other coastal states. Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski is also a co-sponsor of the bill along with Cardin, who said this week he is well aware of the problems nutria create in Maryland’s coastal areas.

“I have seen first-hand the damage done by nutria to the wetlands on the Eastern Shore, particularly at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge,” said Cardin, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “A strong nutria eradication program is critical to protecting our wetlands from this invasive species that has such a destructive capability.”

The nutria’s destruction of wetlands, particularly at the Blackwater Refuge, costs the state of Maryland $4 million a year from the degradation of agricultural land. In 2000, the federally-funded Maryland Nutria Project was launched and it has helped stem the destruction and eradicate the insatiable rodents from over 150,000 acres of wetlands in Dorchester, Talbot, Caroline, Somerset and Wicomico counties.

Inexplicably, however, nutria have never made their presence felt in Worcester County, despite an occasional reported sighting, even though conditions are similar to those in neighboring counties.

“We don’t have any nutria in the coastal bays and we hope we never do,” said Maryland Coastal Bays Program Executive Director Dave Wilson. “We done reports and we’ve funded studies, but everything points to no nutria in our wetlands and coastal areas. Those were the results we were hoping for. We certainly have the capacity to have a problem, but so far, it isn’t an issue for us.”