WASHINGTON – The House has passed a bill that would give Maryland $2.9 million for a pilot program to eliminate nutria, and backers of the measure give it a 50-50 chance of winning final Senate approval before Congress adjourns next month.
The bill, aimed at eradicating the semi-aquatic rodents that are destroying the Blackwater National Wildlife refuge, passed the House an a voice vote Monday and now heads to the Senate. An aide to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, said it has about a 50-50 chance of passing before Congress adjourns Oct. 9.
“We will do what we can to have it passed on the Senate side in the remaining days of the session,” said Jesse Jacobs, press secretary to Sarbanes.
The bill was introduced July 27 by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville. It would fund a three-year program to trap the rodents and track or kill them. The goal of the program is to develop an effective way to eradicate nutria and help restore the wetlands that the animals are eating their way through.
Nutria are beaver-like rodents that can weigh up to 20 pounds. Native to South America, they were brought to Maryland in the 1950s to support the fur industry. Their numbers have since exploded in Maryland, where they have no natural predators and where they are rarely hunted for their fur any longer. There may be as many as 50,000 on the Eastern Shore today, by some estimates.
Mike Markarian, campaign director for the Fund for Animals, called it unfortunate that the House passed the bill, which he said would cause nutria to suffer through the use of such measures as underwater drowning cages.
The pilot program will test a combination of traps, including drowning cages, to determine which trapping methods are most effective against nutria.
“We hope that the Senate will have more sense to defeat this bill,” Markarian said.
Gilchrest’s senior legislative assistant, Erika M. Feller, said the nutria bill has a pretty good chance of passing into law before Congress adjourns “if we can get things squared away in the Senate.”