U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, D-MD, introduced legislation that would provide $4-million a year over five years to destroy nutria in Maryland and Louisiana. Nutria, a large beaver-like rodent that can eat up to 25-percent of its body weight in plants each day, have destroyed about 7,000 acres of marshland at Blackwater National Refuge in the past 40 years. The rate of destruction is about 200 acres each year and costs Maryland’s economy about $4-million annually. Unlike other animals that eat wetland plants, nutria prefer plant roots, creating soil erosion problems. Nutria females reproduce at the rate of about 15 young per year. Cardin toured the refuge in 2008 and saw the damage to the wetlands.
In 2001, the Audubon Society released a report that identified Blackwater Refuge as one of ten refuges nationwide jeopardized by imminent threats, including the Nutria. In 2003, President George Bush authorized the Nutria Eradication and Control Act that included $20-million for Maryland over five years. Cardin’s legislation would extend federal funds another five years. Trappers at Blackwater killed about 5,000 Nutria in the first year of the program and removed more than 11,000 of the web-footed rodents from marshlands, mostly in Dorchester County. The South American native Nutria are found throughout the shore, but are more concentrated in Dorchester County with about 75,000 Nutria, according to the DNR. Federal funds for Nutria removal started in 1997 with the launch of the Maryland Nutria Project, which helped remove Nutria from 150,000 acres in Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, Talbot and Caroline Counties.