In the nineteen-thirties, nutria were imported to the United States from South America for the fur trade; by the end of the nineteen-forties, the rodents were turning up in the Louisiana wetlands. By the end of the nineteen-sixties, there was an estimated wild population of twenty million. This abundance of nutria provided many trappers a living until the fur trade collapsed in the late nineteen-eighties. With no money to be made off the pelts, the population grew out of control and began destroying the Louisiana wetlands.
Nutria reproduces very quickly. Left unchecked, the population can become out of control in an area. A litter is born every eight weeks, and the females can begin reproducing after twelve weeks.
Nutria feed off the roots of plants in the Louisiana wetlands, killing them and making the land susceptible to erosion. These wetlands act as a cushion between the ocean and the mainland during high tide and landfalling hurricanes. Without the wetlands, coastal flooding would be out of control. The nutria population can destroy an area of land the size of seven football fields a year. Next to human destruction, nutria is the biggest threat to the wetlands.
Since two thousand and two, the state of Louisiana has had a hunting program in place to rid the wetlands of nutria, intending to remove four hundred thousand rodents a year. They have only averaged half of that for the past three years. After not meeting their goal, they have raised the price on the nutria tail from five dollars to six dollars. The hunters can dispose of the meat or sell it. Dog food companies use it in their recipes. Local chefs are developing recipes for human consumption as well, touting the meat’s protein content, amino acid composition, and fatty acid content.
The nutria problem on the Louisiana coast is devastating that ecosystem. This rodent is not native to the area. It was placed into that environment by man. Many years later, its pelt is worthless, and we must foot the bill to get rid of it. This example of man’s focus on right now, not realizing the problems he may be creating for his children’s children, and so on continues to this very day.