War fever has broken out in Washington, over Louisiana’s iconic swamp rat.
Forgive us our skepticism, but the nutria still have advantages over the U.S. government.
A bill to give more federal aid to the war on nutria passed the U.S. House, broadening federal efforts to fight the pest.
The federal government currently budgets $4 million a year to support nutria hunting and trapping, although there’s not much to be done with them after they are trapped except firing squads: Efforts to revive interest in nutria-fur coats have failed, as have nutria-themed recipes for New Orleans chefs.
If you can’t beat it, eat it? Hardly a ringing wartime slogan.
The swamp rats breed like, well, rats. The nutria bounty from the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was increased from $5 to $6 recently but hunters participating collected about 223,000 tails in the last season.
That’s barely 1% of the estimated nutria population. We have our doubts that $12 million a year, the amount sought by the new bill, will be an escalation sufficient to the challenge.
On the floor of the House, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Baton Rouge was moved to eloquence: ''Think about this: Nearly 4.5 million people live in Louisiana, yet we have an estimated 20 million nutria … 20 million!'' Graves cried. ''It's an extraordinary figure. If we could count them in the Census, Louisiana would pick up an additional 27 members of Congress. We're having infestation without representation and we need to do something about it.''
The bill Graves co-sponsors would authorize anti-nutria programs in all 50 states; currently, they are in place in Louisiana and in Maryland. Why the latter? The reason for the nutria war in the first place is that the plug-ugly critters eat away at wetlands plants.
Their chewing up of the roots of marsh plants is hardly the most critical threat to Louisiana’s coast — and other coasts, too, from Oregon to Maryland — but it is a contributor. More than 40 square miles of Louisiana's coast have been turned into open water by nutria over the past two decades, according to Wildlife and Fisheries.
As it’s a national problem, we wish the bill to help preserve America’s coastlines well.
And we wish the bounty hunters every success. Yet the campaign against nutria is not going to be settled by a drone strike or B-52 bombing. It’s a war of attrition.
And those are hard to win.