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Bounty Hunting Nutria In Lousianna
An Introduced Animal
The nutria, (myocastor coypus), was brought to Louisiana from South America durning the 1920s for the purpose of fur farming. These rodents are somewhat like small beavers, with rat like tails, and were either accidentally or intentionally released into marshes sometime in the 1930s. These animals became feral, and populations expanded in Louisiana, and to areas including coastal marshes in East Texas, and the Mississippi River.
These semi aquatic herbivores, are on average 24 inches long from nose to tail when grown. Growth usually peaks at 1 1/2 years of age. Adult females weigh up to 18 pounds, with males weighing up to 20 pounds. When retreating into water, they can stay submerged up to 10 minuets. They feed mainly at night on wetland plants or cultivated crops, and have caused a great deal of damage to some areas, particularly in Louisiana and Texas, but have been found in 40 states throughout the USA. In some cases taking over muskrat houses as well as beaver lodges, driving these indigenous animals from their homes and forcing them to take refuge elsewhere.
The normal age that nutria reach sexual maturity is around 4 to 6 months old. However this is dependant on food supply. Litters of offspring can number from 1 to 9, and they reproduce very quickly.
By the 1950s with growing numbers of nutria in Louisiana, (up to 20 million), reports of damage by them to rice and sugarcane producing land and to levee systems were being increasingly reported. (An estimated 100,000 acres of marshy coastline has been adversely effected.) As a direct result of their population growth, and the spread of the destruction they caused to the natural environment, they were taken off the list of protected wildlife in 1958.
The state of Louisiana began to promote harvesting nutria fur as a natural resource, and as a way to manage the animals as pest until 1965, when the nutria was returned to the protected wildlife list.
With limited harvesting of nutria continuing, aerial surveys conducted intermittently between 1993 to 2002, clearly showed wetland damage, especially concentrated in the Deltaic Plain in Southeastern Louisiana. Populations of this animal are exceeding the local carrying capacity of the land they inhabit.
In 2002, a report on Nutria Control Methods was completed by Genesis Laboratories under contract by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. The report concludes that the incentive payment program is the best option for coast-wide control. This last ditch program was put in place when the trapping season opened up in November 2002, and is still in place today. In other words, there is a bounty on nutria in the state of Louisiana.
With the bounty system in place, and with hunters and trappers being paid $4.00 for each nutria tail, the bayous are being hunted again. Louisiana state officials say there's enough money in the budget to keep the nutria bounty program running for up to 20 years.
Beginning about 5 years ago, the state even began to encourage eating nutria as a way to reduce the population. For a while, famous Louisiana chefs were serving it in the finest New Orleans restaurants. But the trend never caught on throughout the nation.
One trapper, Paul Autin has plenty of nutria meat on hand, but he doesn't eat it, and maintains his fellow trappers don't eat it much. "We never got into eating it, I guess (because) the looks... it looks like a rat. It’s not a pretty animal." He said in an interview with Melanie Peeples.
With concern about the natural environment, as well as the crop land these animals destroy, coupled with the slow economy, I personally believe hunting and trapping nutria is a viable method of land conservation, as well as income to those in a position to hunt or trap them.
At the same time this situation of over population with an introduced animal is a harsh reminder of the delicate balance of nature, and the care we must take in our roll as guardians of our planet.