Chesapeake Bay almost rid of invasive nutria

In a 2004 economic study commissioned by the Maryland DNR, Southwick Associates reported that, without decisive action, more than 35,000 acres of Chesapeake Bay marshes could be destroyed by nutria in 50 years. The impacts of this to the Maryland economy would be dire, with losses exceeding 35 million dollars annually. Maryland watermen will be hardest hit, with lost productivity and lost jobs for this already economically embattled sector. Credit: USFWS
In a 2004 economic study commissioned by the Maryland DNR, Southwick Associates reported that, without decisive action, more than 35,000 acres of Chesapeake Bay marshes could be destroyed by nutria in 50 years. The impacts of this to the Maryland economy would be dire, with losses exceeding 35 million dollars annually. Maryland watermen will be hardest hit, with lost productivity and lost jobs for this already economically embattled sector. Credit: USFWS

When they feed, nutria damage or destroy the root mat that binds the marsh together. When this fibrous root network is lost, marshlands are quickly reduced to unconsolidated mudflats. These areas, in turn, are highly susceptible to erosion and are eventually converted to open water. This downward spiraling not only harms the marsh but the wildlife that depend on them. In a 2004 economic study commissioned by the Maryland DNR, Southwick Associates reported that, without decisive action, more than 35,000 acres of Chesapeake Bay marshes could be destroyed by nutria in 50 years. Credit: USFWS

Today you're hearing from Dan Murphy (top), chief of habitat conservation in our Chesapeake Bay Field Office, and Suzanne Baird, manager of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Photos courtesy of Dan and Suzanne.

Today you’re hearing from Dan Murphy (top), chief of habitat conservation in our Chesapeake Bay Field Office, and Suzanne Baird, manager of the
Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Photos courtesy of Dan and Suzanne.

Down in the Chesapeake Bay, we’ve made great progress to get rid of the exotic, invasive nutria rodent. So well that we invited our regional agency leadership from Massachusetts down for a  tour of Chesapeake Bay marshes and a demonstration of nutria eradication methods.

Scott Kahan and Paul Phifer, the heads of two of our Northeast Region programs, visited us for two days to get a firsthand look at this highly successful project that has eradicated the exotic invasive nutria from 216,000 acres of wetlands on the Delmarva Peninsula. Nutria are aquatic rodents that degrade wetlands through their destructive feeding habits.

In fact, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge has lost almost half of its wetlands since the introduction of nutria, which accelerate and exacerbate the effects of other forces, such as sea-level rise.

The project is the first attempt of its kind to eradicate an aquatic mammal from a non-island locale. While similar projects attempt to control nutria, our Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Project endeavors to remove the species permanently, restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay marshes that provide valuable wetland habitat for birds and fish and serve as a nursery ground for commercially important aquatic species, such as the blue crab. Also known as the kidneys of the Bay, Chesapeake wetlands filter harmful runoff that reduces water quality.

A USDA wildlife specialist setting a nutria trap. Credit: Steve Kendrot, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services

A USDA wildlife specialist setting a nutria trap. Credit: Steve Kendrot, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services

The project is funded by two of our agency’s programs, the National Wildlife  Refuge System and Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and supported by 27 partner organizations. The Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office and Chesapeake Bay Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex administer the project, implemented by a crew of 17 federal wildlife specialists from the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS Wildlife Services.

We’re excited to be moving operations into the final remaining Chesapeake Bay river valley that is known to be infested by nutria. It was great to have Scott and Paul there to help us celebrate this hard-won occasion. For many years, the wildlife specialists have exhaustively searched for and captured nutria year-round in extremely harsh conditions.

Paul Phifer and Scott Kahan, the heads of two of our Northeast Region programs, discuss nutria eradication techniques with Dan Dawson of USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services. Credit: Steve Kendrot, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services

Paul Phifer and Scott Kahan, the heads of two of our Northeast Region programs, discuss nutria eradication techniques with Dan Dawson of USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services. Credit: Steve Kendrot, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services

Having our leadership take time out of their busy schedules to look in-depth at a project and show interest and appreciation meant a lot to the hard-working and dedicated crew. We feel confident that the goal of a nutria-free Chesapeake Bay is possible as long as we maintain the current level of effort and see the project through to completion.  Having a vote of confidence from the top gives us some tailwind.

See more photos from the day on Scott’s Facebook.

One Comment on “Chesapeake Bay almost rid of invasive nutria

  1. Pingback: Look out for Invasive Species! | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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