LA CONNER - A project is under way in northwest Washington to locate and remove nutria, a destructive, non-native rodent that has caused billions of dollars of damage to native wildlife habitat and agricultural lands in the United States.
To determine the extent of the nutria population where sightings have been confirmed, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has issued the U.S. Department of Agriculture a permit to set traps in two areas of the Skagit Valley.
Traps will be set in portions of WDFW's Johnson-DeBay Slough Swan Preserve, northeast of Mount Vernon. The entire 331-acre preserve will be closed to all public access during the trapping period.
Traps will be also set on privately owned property in the Skagit Valley. The land is already posted with "No Trespassing" signs, and additional signage that warns of the active trapping operation will be posted.
Under the permit, trapping will be allowed beginning this month and can continue for 90 days. Trapping locations will be closed to public access.
A large semi-aquatic rodent native to South America, nutria were first brought to the southern United States in the 1930s to control aquatic vegetation and to provide a new source of fur for the fashion industry.
Although the largest nutria concentrations are centered in the southern United States, nutria have established significant populations in more than 40 states, including Washington and Oregon. Their primary range in the Pacific Northwest is the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers and their tributaries.
Nutria inhabit drainage ditches, sloughs and river channels. They burrow into riverbanks and dikes where they rear their young in large dens. Adult female nutria can produce five litters per year, with up to 12 young in each litter.
Their burrowing activities have led to bank and dike erosion problems, while their ability to eat virtually any vegetation allows them to out-compete native wildlife for food.
Several nutria sightings have been confirmed in the lower Skagit Valley, an important agricultural area of northwestern Washington.
Nutria are 28 to 56 inches long, including a 12- to 17-inch rounded tail. They are about three times the size of a muskrat and have a round, scaly tail. The forelegs are small compared with its body size. The much-smaller muskrat has a tail that is flattened vertically. Nutria are similar in size to beaver, but the beaver's large, flat tail is an easy distinguishing characteristic.
More information on nutria control efforts across the United States is available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/pubs/fsheet_faq_notice/fs_wsnutria.html on the Internet. Nutria facts can be found at http://www.nutria.com/site3.php on the Internet.
Wildlife biologists are asking the public to help identify areas containing nutria. Anyone who sights a nutria is asked to call (360) 466-4345, ext. 266 and provide the specific location, time of day and other pertinent details of the sighting.