By BRETT MARTEL
11/19/02 .c The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Nutria - furry, swamp-dwelling rodents that look like 10-pound rats with webbed feet - are largely regarded as a nuisance in Louisiana's Cajun country. But they are wanted creatures nonetheless.
Starting Wednesday, the state of Louisiana will pay a $4-a-tail bounty - officials prefer the term ``incentive'' - in hopes of wiping out 400,000 nutria this winter.
The payment is part of an effort to save Louisiana's coast, which is disappearing at a rate of 35 square miles a year. Nutria, a non-native species that has overrun Gulf of Mexico wetlands since the value of their fur plummeted in the early 1980s, devour plants that keep the soil from washing away.
Longtime trapper Paul Autin said the bounty might help preserve his way of life a little longer as well.
``It's going to be a big help and it will keep people out there,'' Autin said in a thick Cajun accent. ``Years ago, every second or third house out here had trappers. Now I feel like I'm one of the only ones left.''
Nutria were brought from Argentina in the 1930s and raised on farms for their fur. Some escaped into the wild, and now they are so populous that their flattened carcasses litter southern Louisiana highways whenever high water from a major storm chases them out of the marshes to higher ground.
The state has tried to market nutria meat. Many people say they taste like farm-raised rabbit, and are lean and high in protein. But demand has never been high among Americans, despite the efforts of local gourmet chefs to come up with recipes for nutria gumbo, sausage, chili and jerky.
``It's really quite good,'' said Edmond Mouton, a Louisiana native who works for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. ``People at duck camps would historically cook nutria and say it was marsh rabbit. Everybody ate it and they wouldn't know the difference unless they were told. So it's all in the mind.''
But even 59-year-old Autin, who has been catching nutria for four decades, has never eaten one.
``I'm sure they're good to eat. It's just that it's not a pretty animal,'' Autin said. ``Of course, pretty shouldn't mean anything. You're not going to eat a cat and that's pretty.''
State officials are looking toward China as a potential nutria market. But until they go nuts for nutria in Asia, the state has decided it will be worth $2 million to pay trappers to kill the rodents.
State wildlife officials say up to 100,000 acres of Louisiana marsh show signs of damage from nutria. The damage ranges from thinning vegetation to land that has been eroded below the surface of the water.
To collect the bounty, trappers must present the nutria tails frozen or salted.
Autin, who 28 years ago took a full-time job as a swinging-bridge operator because the money in trapping was so bad, said the reward might be just enough to help him break even if he can get an extra dollar or two for the pelt and carcass.
Trappers use mud boats to set and haul metal leg traps. It takes an experienced, keen eye to recognize where nutria are feeding by examining depressions in the marsh grass. Autin sets up 150 to 300 traps. His catch generally ranges from 15 to 50 a day - 100 on a great day.
In the 1970s, trappers killed about 1.8 million nutria a year and fur coat makers, mostly in Europe, paid $4 to $8 a pelt. But demand fell, especially with the rise in popularity of leather and synthetics.
Pelts might get $1 or so nowadays. Alligator farmers often buy up the meat and grind it into feed, but they do not pay much more than a 25 cents a carcass.
By DOUG SIMPSON
.c The Associated Press Circa 12/23/02
LULING, La. (AP) - Cajun country's No. 1 nuisance - 10-pound swamp rats with orange buck teeth and webbed feet - are Kyle Loupe's cash cow.
Emerging from the bayous in an airboat splotched with blood and Spanish moss, Loupe plunks down more than 1,200 tails that once wagged from Louisiana's reviled rodents known as nutria, and will collect $4,824 in return.
Loupe owes the windfall to Louisiana's three-week-old, $4-a-tail-bounty program that aims to wipe out 400,000 nutria this winter, and save an eroding coastline that's been disappearing at an estimated rate of 30 square miles a year.
Nutria, a non-native species that has overrun Gulf of Mexico wetlands since the value of their fur plummeted in the early 1980s, devour plants that keep the soil from washing away.
``The nutria run away, but they're not that quick,'' said Loupe, who picks off the pests with his .22 rifle. ``Sometimes you see two, three, four on a hill, and you get all of them. There's none that gets away.''
Louisiana has tried just about everything to get rid of the rodents. Nutria cuisine didn't catch on, and nutria fur coats fell out of favor. Sheriff's deputies still shoot them for target practice, and recreational nutria hunting had its debut last year.
Now, it's time for the professionals.
About 400 hunters and trappers have signed up for the bounty system - known as the Nutria Control Program. In the first week, they turned in 4,863 of the long, hairy tails.
``I expect us to be collecting 8,000 a week, maybe 10,000 if we really get on a hot streak,'' said Jeff Marx, a state biologist.
Nutria were imported from Argentina in the 1930s because state officials believed they would enhance the fur trade. Among those raising nutria were Tabasco hot sauce founder E.A. McIlhenny.
But no one anticipated the animals' prodigious breeding prowess, or their enormous appetite. Alligators are the only predator that commonly eats nutria, and as the gator population dropped, the rodents have enjoyed free rein to chomp their way through the marshes.
Most are in the marshy areas of south Louisiana, and they've also crept into suburban New Orleans. State wildlife officials say up to 100,000 acres of Louisiana marsh show signs of damage from nutria.
So far, the bounty program is getting good reviews.
``I expected anything run by the state to be full of problems, but somebody put a lot of thought into this,'' said hunter Albert Oberschmidt, who shot 23 nutria and is due a $92 check for the tails.
Loupe, normally a commercial crab fisherman, is the top nutria hunter so far. The crab season is unprofitable in the winter, so until nutria season is over March 31 he'll make his living switching between fishing for catfish and hunting for nutria.
``What I do is go shoot one day, then give the nutria a day to regroup. We give them a break in between,'' he said.
Loupe said he kills nutria in batches of 50, piling the carcasses into his boat. He uses a machete to chop off the tails, and sets them aside. He dumps half of the bodies in the water, and half get buried. Then he goes back for more.
``On a good day, we get about 80 in five or six hours,'' he said.
But Loupe's success is the exception rather than the rule. Most nutria hunters are just picking up a few extra dollars. The state has set aside $1.6 million to pay hunters and trappers, and the $4 bounty isn't designed to make anyone rich, said Kim Barton, a project manager with Coastal Environments Inc., which the state hired to run the program.
``The point is just to kill as many nutria as we can, because they're pretty much killing off the state,'' Barton said.
Subject: Muskrat threat in The Netherlands Source: Frankfurter Rundschau, July 27, 2003
Authorities in The Netherlands have expressed growing concern about environmental damage allegedly being caused by increasing populations of migrating muskrats and nutria.
Trappers in The Netherlands report a 20% increase in the number of muskrats trapped in 2002 compared with the previous year, while specialists claim that in just one year a single muskrat can dig the equivalent of 13 [truck] loads of sand.
They consider that the lack of controls, including effective trapping, in neighboring Germany is contributing to increasing numbers of these species crossing the countries' common border and threatening the stability of the dams, dykes and canals which are essential for flood protection in Holland.
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Stephen Vantassel is a Certified Wildlife Control Professional. He is a nationally known writer including having been an assistant editor for Wildlife Control Technology magazine, author of numerous ADC articles as well as The Wildlife Removal Handbook rev.ed and the Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook rev. ed. Mr. Vantassel is also a vocal critic of the growing animal rights movement. He has exposed the fallacies and deceptions of the animal rights protest industry through debate, lecture and publication.
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