Terrebonne Parish leader proposes bigger bounty for nutria
Posted 10:04 a.m. Saturday
AMITE, La. — The dreaded nutria could soon fetch a bigger bounty in Terrebonne Parish, where it's doing the most damage.
Parish leaders are considering a proposal that would add $2 or $3 to the $5 that the state already pays for each nutria tail turned in by hunters and trappers.
"We need to come up with something to do more," Parish Council Chairman Dirk Guidry said. "I don't think we can eradicate them, but at least we can try to knock them down a little more."
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports Guidry is proposing to allot $100,000 for the added bounty. He notes the parish spends about $140,000 to rebuild an acre of marsh so the investment in the bounty, he said, could be money well spent.
Marsh-devouring nutria are hitting Terrebonne more than other coastal parishes. This year, according to the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 82 percent of the nutria damage surveyed along the Louisiana coast was in Terrebonne. The rate was even higher in 2016, when Terrebonne bore 99 percent of all damage.
Nutria are one of several factors contributing to rapid land loss along Louisiana's coast. Major causes also include oil and gas exploration, sea level rise, subsidence and the loss of replenishing sediment since the Mississippi River was leveed.
Gnawing away the roots of marsh plants, nutria leave little to hold the fragile landscape in place. More than 40 square miles of the state's coast has been converted to open water by nutria over the past 16 years, the Wildlife and Fisheries report says.
Marsh damage was worse before the state bounty program was established in 2002. Damaged areas ranged around 100,000 acres, and this year it's less than 6,000 acres.
But participation in the bounty program might be waning. The number of tails turned in this year was about 35 percent less than the annual average. And despite having the biggest nutria problem, Terrebonne produces only 22 percent of the program's nutria tails.
A bigger financial incentive could boost the count, Guidry hopes.
History appears to back him up. Nutria pelts were a hot commodity until the 1980s, when the fur market tanked. Before then, when prices were high, the state recorded almost no nutria damage.
Guidry said his proposal got a lukewarm response from other council members.
"A lot of them are city people," said Guidry, who lives in Chauvin, population 2,900. "They aren't accustomed to talking about the nutria problem. I'm going to have to educate them."
He's working with a former Wildlife and Fisheries manager to refine his proposal. A key issue is making sure the added bounty is paid only for nutria killed in Terrebonne. A hunter might bring tails from neighboring Lafourche Parish and claim the Terrebonne bounty, Guidry said. A solution is to offer the Terrebonne bounty only to hunters who can prove Terrebonne residency.
Wildlife and Fisheries hasn't officially weighed in Guidry's proposal. Catherine Normand, the agency's nutria control program manager, said a more effective solution might be to work on hunter access agreements or incentives with marsh property owners. Boosting property access is one of the control program's goals this year.
Guidry plans to make a formal proposal to boost the Terrebonne bounty late this month or in early August.