SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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OVERSIGHT HEARING ON PILOT PROGRAM TO CONTROL NUTRIA AT THE BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE IN MARYLAND
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES CONSERVATION, WILDLIFE AND OCEANS
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
JULY 16, 1998, WASHINGTON, DC
Serial No. 10597
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Printed for the use of the Committee on Resources
Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/house
Committee address: http://www.house.gov/resources
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
DON YOUNG, Alaska, Chairman
W.J. (BILLY) TAUZIN, Louisiana
JAMES V. HANSEN, Utah
JIM SAXTON, New Jersey
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
JOEL HEFLEY, Colorado
JOHN T. DOOLITTLE, California
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
KEN CALVERT, California
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
BARBARA CUBIN, Wyoming
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
LINDA SMITH, Washington
GEORGE P. RADANOVICH, California
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCWALTER B. JONES, Jr., North Carolina
WILLIAM M. (MAC) THORNBERRY, Texas
JOHN SHADEGG, Arizona
JOHN E. ENSIGN, Nevada
ROBERT F. SMITH, Oregon
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
JOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
RICK HILL, Montana
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JIM GIBBONS, Nevada
MICHAEL D. CRAPO, Idaho
GEORGE MILLER, California
EDWARD J. MARKEY, Massachusetts
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
BRUCE F. VENTO, Minnesota
DALE E. KILDEE, Michigan
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American Samoa
NEIL ABERCROMBIE, Hawaii
SOLOMON P. ORTIZ, Texas
OWEN B. PICKETT, Virginia
FRANK PALLONE, Jr., New Jersey
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCARLOS A. ROMERO-BARCELÓ, Puerto Rico
MAURICE D. HINCHEY, New York
ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD, Guam
SAM FARR, California
PATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
ADAM SMITH, Washington
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
CHRIS JOHN, Louisiana
DONNA CHRISTIAN-GREEN, Virgin Islands
RON KIND, Wisconsin
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
LLOYD A. JONES, Chief of Staff
ELIZABETH MEGGINSON, Chief Counsel
CHRISTINE KENNEDY, Chief Clerk/Administrator
JOHN LAWRENCE, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans
JIM SAXTON, New Jersey, Chairman
W.J. (BILLY) TAUZIN, Louisiana
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
WALTER B. JONES, Jr., North Carolina
JOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
MICHAEL D. CRAPO, Idaho
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FRANK PALLONE, Jr., New Jersey
NEIL ABERCROMBIE, Hawaii
SOLOMON P. ORTIZ, Texas
SAM FARR, California
PATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
HARRY BURROUGHS, Staff Director
JOHN RAYFIELD, Legislative Staff
CHRISTOPHER MANN, Legislative Staff
C O N T E N T S
Hearing held July 16, 1998
Statement of Members:
Gilchrest, Hon. Wayne T., a Representative in Congress from the State of Maryland
Saxton, Hon. Jim, a Representative in Congress from the State of New Jersey
Prepared statement of
Statement of Witnesses:
Baldwin, Andrew, Assistant Professor, Biological Resources Engineering Department, University of Maryland
Prepared statement of
Carowan, Glenn, Refuge Manager, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge accompanied by Dixie Bounds, Assistant Unit Leader, Wildlife Research, Maryland Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrepared statement of
Haramis, Michael, Wildlife Biologist, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Prepared statement of
Pierce, Richard B., Director of Operations for Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office
Prepared statement of
Rapp, Jim, Director, Salisbury Zoological Park
Prepared statement of
Soutiere, Edward C., President and Manager, Tudor Farms, Inc.
Prepared statement of
Taylor-Rogers, Sarah, Assistant Secretary, Maryland Department of Natural Resources accompanied by Robert C. Colona, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Prepared statement of
Additional material supplied:
Linscombe, Greg, Programs Manager, Fur and Refuge Division, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, prepared statement of
OVERSIGHT HEARING ON PILOT PROGRAM TO CONTROL NUTRIA AT THE BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE IN MARYLAND
THURSDAY, JULY 16, 1998
House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, Committee on Resources, Washington, DC.
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:15 p.m., in room 1334, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Jim Saxton (chairman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SAXTON. The Subcommittee will come to order for the purpose of conducting a hearing.
STATEMENT OF HON. JIM SAXTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY
Mr. SAXTON. The Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans is meeting today to conduct an oversight hearing on a pilot program to control the non-indigenous species, nutria, which is destroying valuable wetlands in the Blackwater National Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland. And it goes without saying that this hearing has been called at the request of our good friend from the Eastern Shore, Mr. Gilchrest, who is I know very concerned about this issue.
By way of background, nutria are large semi-aquatic rodents that are native to South America. They have brown fur with small ears. Very good.
Webbed hind feet, and a long, lengthy tail. They cannot be called little rats because they are big rats, it says here. The nutria may weigh up to 20 pounds. Nutria live along the banks and lakes, marshes, ponds and rivers. They are surface feeding herbivores that can be extremely destructive to marsh vegetation. These powerful animals forage directly on the vegetative root mat leaving the marsh pitted and digging sites and fragmented with deep swim canals. In the face of rising sea levels, nutria damage is particularly problematic because it accelerates the erosion and the processes associated with tidal currents and wave action.
Nutria were introduced in Maryland in the 1950's to assist the fur industry. There are currently between 100,000 and 150,000 nutria living in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and private fur trappers have not begun to keep pace with the animal's ability to reproduce. To compound this problem there are no natural predators to control nutria and nutria are causing serious problems for native wildlife, fish, plants and marsh ecosystems.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC During the past year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the University of Maryland and Tudor Farms on a strategy to deal with the growing problem. This group issued a report on April 3, 1998, entitled ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland''.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about this report and how or if, its recommendations can be implemented. Thank you all for being here today. I would now like to recognize Mr. Gilchrest for any statement he may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Saxton follows:]
STATEMENT OF HON. JIM SAXTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY
The Subcommittee will come to order. The Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans is meeting today to conduct an oversight hearing on a pilot program to control the nonindigenous species nutria, which is destroying valuable wetlands at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland.
By way of background, nutria are large, semi-aquatic rodents that are native to South America. They have brown fur with small ears, webbed hind feet, and a long, lightly haired tail. Wild nutria may weigh up to 20 pounds. Nutria live along the banks of lakes, marshes, ponds, and rivers. They are surface-feeding herbivores that can be extremely destructive to marsh vegetation. These powerful animals forage directly on the vegetative root mat, leaving the marsh pitted with digging sites and fragmented with deep swim canals. In the face of rising sea levels, nutria damage is particularly problematic because it accelerates the erosion and processes associated with tidal currents and wave action.
Nutria were introduced in Maryland in the 1950's to assist the fur industry. There are currently between 100,000 and 150,000 nutria living at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and private fur trappers have not begun to keep pace with the animals' ability to reproduce. To compound this problem, there are no natural predators to control nutria, and nutria are causing serious problems for native wildlife, fish, plants, and marsh ecosystems.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC During the past year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the University of Maryland, and Tudor Farms on a strategy to deal with the growing nutria problem. This group issued a report on April 3, 1998, entitled ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland.''
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the report and how, or if, its recommendations can be implemented. Thank you for being here today.
STATEMENT OF HON. WAYNE T. GILCHREST, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MARYLAND
Mr. GILCHREST. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the fact that you'vethat you're having this hearing this afternoon. Many of the people in the audience that will discuss this issue today are the constituents of the First District of Maryland. They've been wrestling with this problem for decades if not for years, and we look forward to your testimony and we're up here to try to figure out what we can do to not only resolve the problems of the nutria to bring them into some type of balance, if not eliminate them entirely and appropriate theor authorize, because we're not the appropriators although that would be an interesting change in next year's rules, the authorizing committees could also be the appropriators. We'd solve a lot of controversy on that, not only to figure out what to do about the nutria, and I think we as human beings are smart enough to figure out how to reduce their numbers and actually eliminate their numbers. We've done it to a lot of other species so we could probably do it to the nutria or ship them all back to South America.
But in the process I think what we'd like to get out of this project as well in collaboration with Louisiana and other States that are doing the same kind of thing, is an understanding of the complexity of natural processes and how over just the length of time that the planet Earth first came into being to now, the interaction of the complexity of the mechanics of creation are rather extraordinary. That if you pick up a piece of dirtyou go almost anywhere and you get a handful of dirt, and the organized structure in the genetic code of that handful of dirt is more complex than all the land mass of all the planets in the solar system. And we're dealing with natural processes and biological systems are the most complex systems in the universe, and it's not something we want to pass off lightly.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So understanding the nature of introducing a non-indigenous species to the United States and other areas and its impact on the natural processes and how they have evolved over many millions of years, going to teach us I think a valuable lesson about biological diversity and not interfering to the extent that it is possible with the mechanics of those biological systems.
And so I'm really looking forward to the testimony of the witnesses here today, for one, I don't see all of you folks as often as I would like to see you because we've been discussing a lot of these issues, whether they're endangered species; whether they're Delmarva fox squirrel; or whether they're the interesting topic with many of the State people on Wetlands; all of us have been involved in these issues for a number of years. So we look forward to not only your testimony but your continued expertise in resolving some of these issues, and thanks again for coming.
I yield back the balance of my time, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SAXTON. Would you like to introduce the panel of witnesses?
Mr. GILCHREST. Sure, all right. On the first panel is Glenn Carowan. He's the refuge manager down there; that I think, at least on Sunday, you have nutria for your main course.
Ms. Sarah Taylor-Rogers, assistant secretary, Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Sarah and I have gone over a lot of issues relating to the Chesapeake Bay, and I think Sarah probably eats there twice a week.
Michael Haramis, Wildlife Biologist, Patuxent Wildlife Research Centerthanks for coming, Mike.
Dr. Andrew Baldwin, assistant professor of Biological Resources Engineering Department, University of Maryland.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We want to welcome all of you here this afternoon and we look forward to your testimony.
And Ms. Dixie Bounds, I didn'tthere you areAssistant Unit Leader, Wildlife Research, Geological Survey, is here with us today. We've done an interesting thing a few years ago in Congress. We put the Biological Services underwhat was that called, the biologicalwe're going to count the biology. National Biological Surveythanksand it's now in the U.S. Geological Survey, along with nutria. Thanks for coming, Ms. Bounds.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much, Mr. Gilchrest. We're going to proceed. We operate here under what we call a 5-minute rule which gives everybody 5 minutes to make an outline of their testimony and of course, your full testimony, written, will be included in the record if you desire. We'll start with Dixie Bounds and move from your right to your left across the table. So Ms. Bounds, if you would like to begin we're ready to hear your testimony.
STATEMENT OF GLENN CAROWAN, REFUGE MANAGER, BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE ACCOMPANIED BY DIXIE BOUNDS, ASSISTANT UNIT LEADER, WILDLIFE RESEARCH, MARYLAND COOPERATIVE FISH AND WILDLIFE RESEARCH UNIT
Mr. CAROWAN. Dixie is going to be accompanying me, sir.
Mr. SAXTON. OK, very good. Thank you. Glenn Carowan.
Mr. CAROWAN. Thank you. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. I am Glenn Carowan and I'm the manager of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Accompanying me is Dr. Bounds, the Assistant Unit Leader for Wildlife with the Maryland Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
During my 28 years of managing wetlands for the National Wildlife Refuge System, I've never witnessed marsh loss anywhere as significant as it is occurring now on the lower Eastern Shore. My colleagues and I are very concerned about the health of our marshlands and the impacts that nutria are having on our wetlands in Maryland and throughout our country.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Before you is an average size nutria. These highly invasive, non-native rodents were introduced from South America to the United States in the early 1900's to stimulate the fur industry. When fur businesses failed in the 1940's nutria were released into the wild. In Louisiana the population quickly grew from 13 in 1937 to an astounding 20 million by the late 1950's. From release sites on or around Blackwater Refuge, refuge populations have grown from 30 released animals in the early 1950's to estimates as high as between 50 and 100,000 today. This is the story for almost half the States and many other refuges in this country as seen on the map. Nutria are established in 22 States and Ontario, with sightings in 40 States and three Canadian provinces.
Nutria devour our wetlands. They consume the above-ground vegetation, excavate the root mat, eliminate plant reproduction, and create large crater-like depressions and deep swim canals that allow saltwater to enter and degrade these delicate ecosystems. The result is that thousands of acres of our Nation's valuable marshlands are degraded or converted to open water. No place on Maryland's Eastern Shore is this more evident than in and around the marshes of Blackwater Refuge, as seen on the comparable aerial photographs that are in front of you.
Over 7,000 acres of marshland have been lost during the 50 years since nutria were first released into the wild. While other factors including sea level rise, land subsidence and salinity changes also affect marsh loss, we recognize that we can only control nutria populations. Therefore, any effective plans for preserving and restoring our marshlands has to include efforts aimed at eradicating nutria. But with the rate of marsh loss accelerating we must move quickly. Accordingly, 17 Federal, State, and private organizations have joined forces to develop a plan to determine the feasibility of eradicating nutria.
The initial phase of this effort entitled ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland'' is based on 5 years of collaboration among the partners with input from private land owners and specialists, and specifically on recommendations by Dr. Morris Gosling, a nutria expert from England. We feel that this pilot program is most applicable to Maryland because of the strength of this multi-agency private partnership that contributes over $1 million in in-kind services, because the nutria population is geographically isolated on the lower Eastern Shore, and because the overall State-wide population is still relatively small when compared to other States.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The National Wildlife Refuge System exists for the protection and management of plants and animals native to the United States. The policy of the Fish and Wildlife Service is to prevent further introduction of exotic species on national wildlife refuges, and to protect those resources from competing with non-native species such as nutria.
Control procedures are delegated to the Secretary of Interior by Executive Order 11987, which also directs Federal agencies to restrict the introduction of exotic species into areas they administer.
Therefore, in addition to being extremely important to the future of Blackwater Refuge, the pilot program also helps other affected refuges achieve the mission for which the National Wildlife Refuge System was established and the purposes for which Congress established these individual units. If successful the program will likewise be helpful to State and private managed areas throughout this country and the world. The adverse effect of nutria foraging and burrowing on our forested and emergent wetlands, our agricultural areas and levees, seriously compromise our ability to achieve our wildlife management objectives and have long-lasting adverse environmental, cultural and economical consequences.
Therefore, we believe that this pilot effort is extremely important to the future welfare of the trust resources which the Fish and Wildlife Service manages for the benefit of the American people.
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today and I'll be happy to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Carowan may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much.
We'll move right along then to the next witness, Mr. Haramis.
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL HARAMIS, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, PATUXENT WILDLIFE RESEARCH CENTER
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HARAMIS. Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, it is with pleasure that I appear before you today to provide information relevant to the nutria/marsh loss issue in Maryland. Thank you for inviting me.
My name is Michael Haramis and I'm a research wildlife biologist with the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, part of the U.S. Geological Survey.
In 1995 I was asked by the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Fish and Wildlife Service's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to conduct a study to investigate the role of non-native nutria on the extensive loss of marsh that has occurred over a number of decades along the Blackwater River and adjoining tidal river marshes in Dorchester County, Maryland. Specifically, since the 1950s, about six square miles of vegetation have been converted to open water on the refuge and over 50 percent of remaining vegetation has been termed unhealthy and likely to be lost in the near future. The result of this habitat change has been to create a large lake out of what was once nearly continuous marshland. You can refer to the black-and-white aerial photos on display that depict this very clearly.
Managers were blaming this loss of marsh on the South American nutria, a large 818-pound invasive, beaver-like rodent that was introduced to Maryland's Eastern Shore marshes in the 1940s. The interest in this animal was its potential fur value. No other grazing rodent of this size has ever occupied these habitats in the developmental period of these marshes since the Chesapeake Bay was formed some 10,000 years ago. Nutria are plant eaters that graze surface marsh vegetation and are particularly fond of Olney bulrush, a plant that grows in extensive stands at Blackwater.
To better understand the role of nutria and marsh loss at Blackwater, I designed the largest exclosure study of its kind to address this issue. Over 1.5 miles of fencing were entrenched in the marsh to exclude nutria from 20 experimental plots, each a quarter acre in size. These exclosures would allow us to measure the ability of marsh plants to recover in the absence of nutria grazing and compare it to the plant loss or gain outside the exclosures where nutria were still present. As you can imagine, installing this fencing required several months of intense labor.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To demonstrate the maximum effect of exclosure, I direct your attention to the poster exhibit on your left. The plot on the left half of the photo is one of the first plots fenced and the plants show a remarkable recovery in one growing season after fencing. However, our original fencing technique was not strong enough to keep out the nutria and after 1 year they breached the fence and caused extensive damage to the vegetation on the right. These photographs clearly depict the compelling nature of the devastation that nutria have on marsh vegetation in this area.
One could ask why vegetation didn't recover as rapidly in every exclosure in the absence of nutria? The answer lies in the type and extent of damage that has been inflicted in the marsh. Nutria not only graze the above ground stems of plants, they are powerful animals that dig into the marsh and excavate the root systems which makes plant recovery extremely difficult and in many instances unlikely. This damage to the root mat of vegetation is especially critical because much of the marsh in the Blackwater Basin is floating on a layer of fluid mud, and the root mat is the fabric that holds the marsh together. Once the nutria cut through the root mat, the underlying mud is easily eroded away by water action. The result is that the marsh breaks up, sinks, and the vegetation is killed by inundation.
I found nutria abundant in this marsh and can report severe damage in much of the marsh that could only likely occur during periods of overpopulation of these animals. Although lightly damaged marsh such as depicted in the above poster has good probability of recovery after nutria are removed, heavily damaged marsh has little recovery potential without some restoration effort.
Although my study will not be completed until 1999, evidence and observations made so far lead me to offer the following conclusions: (1) nutria play a direct role, may have initiated, and I can state with certainty have accelerated the loss of marsh in the Blackwater Basin region; (2) nutria are destructive to this marsh because they have the ability to excavate the root mat, fragment the marsh surface and expose the subsurface to water erosion; (3) nutria are abundant and frequently overpopulated in the marsh. Traditional harvest methods clearly have proven inadequate to control their numbers. And last (4), controlling or eliminating nutria would clearly be beneficial in mediating marsh loss in the Blackwater River Basin.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This ends my presentation. Again, I would like to thank you for this opportunity. I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Haramis may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much, sir.
Dr. Taylor-Rogers of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Welcome.
STATEMENT OF SARAH TAYLOR-ROGERS, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES ACCOMPANIED BY ROBERT C. COLONA, MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. Indeed so, sir. Thank you kindly, Mr. Chairman and Congressman Gilchrest. My name is Dr. Sarah Taylor-Rogers. I am an assistant secretary for resources management in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. I appreciate the opportunity to share with you Maryland's perspective on nutria and also some aspects of the pilot plan that's been developed.
We are concerned about nutria because there is no natural predator for the control of the population and the population is growing. In addition to that, besides the destruction of native habitat, we will be losing that native habitat to the destruction of those very natural resources that use it, such as the fish and shell fish which spawn in these nursery areas. And the Blackwater is part of the Atlantic flyway. To date, eight counties have established populations. Maryland is the best place for this pilot study because the land available on which the nutria happen to be found are primarily Federal and State, so therefore, there is accessibility. The States of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, along with the Federal partners, have supported a no net loss wetland policy and have fostered species diversity under the Bay Program.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Department of Natural Resources is also a trust resource partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and, as such, is responsible for managing and protecting native natural resources to the best of our ability. And for the last 9 years the State has formed partnerships to assess the nutria problem and its effect on marshland.
These studies are as follows: In 1989 we began a catch per unit effort to assess population characteristics; in 1993 we developed the first multi-agency nutria task force to find ways to control nutria and passed Senate bill 27 which provides for 50 percent of the duck stamp revenues to go toward the control of nutria. In 1994 we contracted with Dr. Gosling from England who had successfully eradicated from East Anglia, and in essence, he told the task force that the same thing could be done in Maryland but to do so we had to do several things.
First, we had to garner information; we had to carry out the exclosure studies which Mike Haramis just described for you; we had to develop a well-structured approach; develop a nutria removal scheme through the use of trappers to assess population and to figure out what it would take to eradicate these 30 pound rats.
The third thing, to assess progress. To set up a monitoring team to assess progress and assess the effect on wetlands and their ability to reboundand Alan Baldwin will talk about thatand to educate the public through the use of valuable videos and kits, information kits, to inform them that this particular species is non-native.
Aspects of the plan which are before you and in your packet include the following: We propose the 3 year effort totaling $3.7 million.
Two, of that total amount slightly over $902,000 is being offered in kind by the State, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, University of Maryland, Ducks Unlimited, and Tour de France.
No. 3, we propose to use three areas for the pilot program located within and outside the Blackwater National Wildlife Sanctuary boundaries. Two of the sites will undergo intensive trappings with humane measures being taken and one area will be the control.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC No. 4, we anticipate that an advisory team will be formed comprised of the Federal, State and private partners and that this team will provide advice and guidance to assure success.
No. 5, the trappers and the researchers will together assess the range, health and dynamics of the nutria population as well as the effect on the marsh, and this will garner the information needed. We will do so through the use of radio collars, ear tags, and various trapping techniques will be compared. And also a reward will be established for the return of marked animals.
No. 6, the effect of nutria foraging on marsh vegetation will be assessed and a method will be explored to restore areas of marsh which have experienced the eat-out effect of nutria.
And finally, a public awareness and education campaign is also proposed with exhibits, tool kits and videos being the means for getting the word out. Dr. Gosling noted that the key to successfully removing nutria is to conduct the pilot study that will help the managers and researchers to modify harvest techniques and refine strategies. The pilot plan for which we are seeking funding from either unspent Federal moneys or new dollars, represent the best thinking and practical approach toward the resolution of this problem.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present Maryland's perspective. I look forward to any questions.
[The prepared statement of Dr. Taylor-Rogers may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much, Dr. Rogers.
STATEMENT OF ANDREW BALDWIN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. BALDWIN. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee. My name is Andy Baldwin. I'm with the Department of Biological Resources Engineering at the University of Maryland at College Park. I'm a wetland biologist there. I'm going to be talking today about the wetland restoration demonstration project which is a component of this pilot program to eliminate nutria.
The objectives of this wetland restoration demonstration are first of all to demonstrate that nutria eradication will enhance efforts to restore coastal wetlands. Second, we want to investigate the effects of increases in marsh elevation and planting of native species on the success of restoration efforts. Finally, this information will be used to support the design and implementation of large-scale restoration programs for coastal marshes that are experiencing nutria grazing as well as coastal submergence.
What are some of the factors that control marsh deterioration? Well, you've heard about nutria; these animals cause damage to leaves and roots of marsh plants and they remove the resources of the plants for growth. There's another factor, coastal submergence, and this is the increase in water level relative to the marsh as a result of land subsidence, that is, the sinking of land as well as sea level rise. Higher submergence reduces the ability of plants to grow and inhibits seed germination, preventing colonization of marsh habitat. The combination of nutria grazing and submergence can actually kill wetland vegetation rapidly and this can lead to wetland loss.
How do you restore wetlands? Well, nutria eradication is certainly one component of this. Other important components may be increasing the elevation of marsh sediments somehow to reduce submergence, promoting plant growth and colonization. Another technique is to plant vegetation which should speed the reestablishment of desirable native plant communities and reduce colonization by non-native or invasive species like Phragmites, the giant reed.
One way of restoring or increasing marsh sediment elevation is to use a technique called thin layer sediment deposition. This is a technique where sediment is pumped out of a canal or a channel and pumped through a sprayer so it's deposited on a marsh surface in a very thin layer. This has several advantages over traditional or conventional dredging techniques.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First of all, you can operate this dredging system in a few feet of water such as you have out at Blackwater and other deteriorating areas. You can pump the sediment a long way away from the dredge unit. You can spray it onto both vegetated and non-vegetated areas and this technique has been used successfully down in Louisiana to restore coastal marshes there. What we are proposing to do is to establish two acre areas at both Tudor Farms properties and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and subject them to different amounts of sediments, sprayed on using this thin layer deposition technique. In each of these areas we will plant half and leave half unplanted, plant it with a native desirable marsh species such as three Olney's square, and then within that, fence a portion of that area and leave another portion unfenced. That way we could look at interactions among all these factors and how these different treatments, these restoration treatments, affected the success of restoration.
What do we think this willwhat kind of benefits will this provide? Well, first of all, it should provide a visual and scientific demonstration of the effects of nutria eradication as well as sediment elevation and vegetation planting on the success of restoration efforts. These findings should be directly applicable to designing and implementing large-scale wetland restoration projects in the mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere in coastal marshes experiencing wetland loss. And finally, this project will have the substantive benefit of creating several acres, restoring several acres of deteriorated coastal marsh.
Thank you very much and I'll take any questions that you may have.
[The prepared statement of Dr. Baldwin may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you all very much. I just have a couple of questions. I guess the answers to these questions seems to be self-evident, but let me ask them anyway for the record.
Obviously, as has already been stated, there are no natural enemies for these critters, is that correct? At least in Maryland? Are there natural enemies in other parts of the world, South America?
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. BALDWIN. Down in Louisiana there are alligators that eat some of the nutria. Nutria are a real problem down there but there aren't enough alligators to diminish the population to any great extent.
Mr. SAXTON. And it would be a bad idea to import alligators?
Dr. BALDWIN. It could be. Another exotic species.
Mr. SAXTON. These critters live obviously above water level in some fashion. How do they change the habitat other than eradicating vegetation and the roots of the vegetation? What kind of houses do they live in? Are they like beaver or muskrats or
Mr. CAROWAN. They generally live on the surface of the marsh. In Maryland they tend to build leaf nests right on the surface of the marsh. They also burrow into our levees and our dike systems. Particularly in Louisiana we have a large problem with nutria burrowing into the levees around New Orleans and other places. We call them vagabonds. They tend to move around a lot on the surface of the marsh. They don't really build a lodge as such like a beaver would or as a muskrat would.
So they tend to move around and they live pretty much where they can find a spot. If they find a dry spot underneath a tree they'll bed under there. They'll get underneath your building, and they'll get under your front porch. Wherever they can find a place to get out of the weather, that's what they do.
Mr. SAXTON. I see. And the damage they do appears to be quite similar to the damage done by snow geese in some of our central flyway marshes and East Coast flywayEast flyway marshes. Is it the same kind of thing?
Mr. CAROWAN. Very similar. Very, very similar with the exception that nutria tend to excavate much deeper than the snow geese do. That's been my personal experience on Blackwater. They tend to dig that root system up and destroy the vegetation so that it does not come back. Once they dig that root system up we just do not get very much reproduction, recolonization of those areas that have been destroyed.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SAXTON. And one of the things that Mr. Gilchrest and I have noted over the years is that if it's possiblelet me put it another way. Oftentimes we are successful in creating markets for various types of crittersI'm thinking mostly of fish, I guessand then the supply of fish diminishes in direct correlation to the demand that has been created. Is it possible to create any kind of a demand for fur or meat or anyis there any variation thereof that is a feasible, partial answer?
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. We have been following Louisiana with respect to meat as a delicacy, and also, I think, nutrias trapped for fur. But the problem is that this is an exotic specie that does not have a very strong market at all and the fur market is a very weak one. Most of the exporting of these pelts would go to those very countries that are having difficulty economically.
With your indulgence, I could call in Dr. Robert Colona, who knows a bit more about this if you wish to go into further depth with the question you've asked.
But we've assessed it from the State of Maryland and it just simply isn't practical at all and it would not create a market for us.
Mr. SAXTON. Then the answer is taking the nutria population out via some form of trapping. Is that
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. That is correct.
Mr. SAXTON. Is that correct? What kind of traps would be used?
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. I would have to defer to Dr. Colona on that one, if I might, please.
Mr. SAXTON. Why don't you come over, so the recorder can hear you, if you don't mind?
Dr. COLONA. The pilot project is designed to investigate all the commonly used traps out there now, from foothold traps; instant kill traps; caged traps; blow traps. Each one of those will be evaluated for efficiency, impacts on non-target species, and general control characteristics. At this point in time we don't know. That's one thing we have to investigate. We don't know what the most efficient technique is.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SAXTON. Does hunting hold any possibilities?
Dr. COLONA. Under very specific circumstances you can harvest a lot of them in a very short period of time. But those circumstances only occur sporadically throughout the year so you can't base any eradication efforts solely on hunting. It's got to be a marriage of a lot of different techniques.
Mr. SAXTON. Are these nocturnal animals or are they around during the daytime or both?
Dr. COLONA. They're more dependent on the tides than they are on day or night. You can find them out during the day, you can find them out at night. In the winter time when it's very cold you tend to find them out during the day. They're laying out sunning themselves.
Mr. SAXTON. Adaptable little devils, aren't they?
Dr. COLONA. Very much so. They're like furred cockroaches.
Mr. SAXTON. This guy seems to be very well behaved, by the way.
Let me turn to Mr. Gilchrest at this point. I guess, I want to ask you all and I guess Mr. Gilchrest will do thisit will be interesting for me to know at least how we can be helpful because this is obviously a very significant problem. Mr. Gilchrest.
Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have a few questions. You mentioned they were in eight counties. Are those eight counties on the Eastern Shore?
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. A number of them are on the Eastern Shore, that is indeed correct, but we've also seen some evidence on the Western Shore as well.
Mr. GILCHREST. Where would that be on the Western Shore?
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. In the Patuxent, to my knowledge, and there may be other areas that are not coming to mind right now. And Potomac.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CAROWAN. Both the Patuxent and the Potomac.
Mr. GILCHREST. Patuxent River and the Potomac River?
Mr. CAROWAN. And the Potomac River.
Mr. GILCHREST. So on the Eastern Shore are they north of Dorchester? Could they be as high as Kent County?
Dr. COLONA. We have established populations from Kent Island South to the Virginia line.
Mr. GILCHREST. Because I think I've seen one at Turner's Creek but I'll have to look a little more close. It wasn't a beaver; sure wasn't a possum. Do they have ado they have a very narrow range of habitat or are they more like an opportunistic type of creature where they could live outside ofKent County is not like Dorchester County in the extent of its marsh or wetlands, so could they adapt to an area on Kent County?
Dr. COLONA. We found that they possess more latitude in their habitat or they're able to utilize a larger latitude of habitats than initially thought. Typically, they were thought of as a brackish-water estuarian species, but now we find them up into our freshwater systems; they're in wet forested areas, and we also have them coming up now into some of our croplands. We get crop damage complaint.
Mr. GILCHREST. Is the habitat here giving this range, similar to where they came from in South America?
Dr. COLONA. There's some overlap but it isn't identical.
Mr. GILCHREST. Where did they come from? Which country?
Dr. COLONA. A couple of different countries in South America: Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina.
Mr. GILCHREST. But their habitat down there was similar to
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. COLONA. Yes, it's a similar wetland ecosystem. There's some overlap, ours varies a little bit.
Mr. GILCHREST. What wascan you identify the difference between what Maryland is going to do or wants to do with what the program has been for some time in Louisiana?
Mr. CAROWAN. I'm sorry, sir.
Mr. GILCHREST. The program, they have a program in Louisiana, apparently for some time partially funded by the Federal Government, State government, so on, dealing with nutria. This program that we're looking to begin here, how is it similar or different from what they've already been doing in Louisiana?
Mr. CAROWAN. My information is fairly limited about Louisiana but what I understand there is the funding that Louisiana has received they're putting directly into means to deal with the fur industry as well as to explore other uses of nutria. This program is entirely different than that and what we're looking at is trying to take this opportunity while these animals are somewhat isolated to the Eastern Shore and the population is still small in regards, in comparison to the Louisiana population, to eradicate these animals.
Mr. GILCHREST. We're looking simply to eliminate them from the landscape completely.
Mr. CAROWAN. We're looking to remove the image of nutria from Maryland.
Mr. GILCHREST. Why, why is ityes, ma'am?
Dr. BOUNDS. I'd just like to add a little bit to what Glenn Carowan said. We have talked with biologists in Louisiana and they are trying to exploit the restaurant market, trying to make nutria an exotic table cuisine. We've talked about that in our task force and we don't think that would go over very well in Maryland for a couple of reasons.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First of all, there's a strong seafood industry and most folks who visit and vacation on the Eastern Shore want to eat seafood and not a rat.
And second, I've lived on the shore for a long time and I've found that most local folks don't even want to eat the native muskrat. So there's not much chance the locals would eat nutria.
Mr. GILCHREST. But you don't think you could make nutria taste like a crab cake?
Dr. BOUNDS. I haven't found that recipe yet.
Mr. GILCHREST. We can make catfish taste like crab cake but I guess that would really be a stretch.
Dr. BOUNDS. One other point about Louisiana is that they're not trying to completely eradicate nutria. Louisiana is atempting to control nutria, and we are hoping to eradicate nutria.
Mr. GILCHREST. I see. Is there a reason the population has remained? Is it because of the geographic location or the population in Maryland has remained relatively small compared to the population in Louisiana?
Mr. CAROWAN. Probably the No. 1 thing that we tend to see is that these animals are all in the northern part of the range on the Atlantic seaboard and the cold weather does have a tremendous impact on nutria because they are a South American species.
Mr. GILCHREST. So the map up here, those States in the red have nutria?
Mr. CAROWAN. The States in the red have nutria, and as you'll see up there, we also have nutria up as high as Michigan, but I'm not sure under what circumstances or when those were reported. One of the things that we're trying to do now through the co-op unit is to readdress that with every State that's on that map and also with all the refuges that are represented within those States, to get a better handle on just how serious the problem is. The map means there are nutria in Michigan, not necessarily that they have a major problem.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. Are they in Michigan or Oregon or Washington or Idaho because they were brought in to expand the trapped in species or
Mr. CAROWAN. That's my understanding. Yes, sir.
Mr. GILCHREST. Along around the same period of time?
Mr. CAROWAN. Yes, sir. Actually, between 1899 and the early 1940's is when nutria were brought into just about all those States.
Mr. GILCHREST. I see. I just have a couple more questions, Mr. Chairman. I see you turned the lights off.
How many acres of marshlandDr. Baldwin, you mentioned the restoration project for wetlands and something they'll have to get over up here is creating another beach replenishment project. I know this is not beach replenishment, but if we're looking at a longwe look atand I understand the problems of the nutria and the tidal marsh and the wetlands destruction. But also there is land subsidence and sea-level rise. If you take the nutria out of the picture, which I hope we can do in the next few years. But then you can't take out land subsidence and you can't take out sea-level rise, would it be prudent to continue to pursue the restoration of the marsh which might be eliminated down the road anyway.
Dr. BALDWIN. Well, that's right, you can't control sea-level rise or land subsidence directly but there are techniques where you can increase or help the marsh keep pace with sea-level rise and one of these is to put in additional sediment. Down in Louisiana they're doing things like using this thin layer deposition technique I talked about, and also diverting the Mississippi River into some areas to get more sediment in there so the marshes can keep pace with sea-level rise.
I personally think it's importantI mean you're right, this is something that's going to be, sea-level's going up. But I think it's important to maintain this habitat as much as we can, especially if we need to dredge canals and we need to dispose of this material somehow, let's put it to some good use and create a marsh.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. I would agree there is a problem all over the country, especially in Maryland where you put the dredge material and if it can be of some beneficial use all the better. There is though, in certain areas of Maryland, when you put the dredge material on the land, especially upland, the chemical make-up of the dredge material or the sediment under water is different than when you transfer it up into the open air, and then it can become a problem with releasing certain, you know, whatever acidic materials, certain heavy materials that would have to behow would you deal with that?
Dr. BALDWIN. That's exactly right. When soils are flooded the iron in it is in a reduced state because there's no oxygen. You take it out and you dry it out the iron becomes oxidized, essentially rusts, and that can lead to the formation, especially in saline soils where there's a sulphate source like saltwater soils, can actually form sulfuric acid. In a wetland, a salt marsh, the soil is saturated enough that they're still reducing and so iron is still in a reduced form in a wetland. So if you create a wetland that is still saturated soil, you're not going to have a problem with any sulfur being oxidized.
Mr. GILCHREST. So as long as it's in these wetlands that leaching
Dr. BALDWIN. That's not going to be a problem because they'll still be reduced. Now if you created a pile that was dry, say a few feet out of the water, that's exactly right and that's what can happen with conventional dredging when you make big piles of dredge spoil, you have that same reaction going on.
Mr. GILCHREST. Do you have an estimate as to the number of acres at least in Blackwater that would have to be restored right now?
Dr. BALDWIN. I'm not sure but if you look at those two maps, what was there I guess in 1938 on the left and then that big open area. A lot of that open area is very shallow water and so it only needs a little bit of sediment but it needs some sediment. In this program we're, through this experimental approach, hoping to restore a maximum of 30 acres, it would probably be somewhere around 15 to 20 acres that would actually get restored.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. So as part of this whole nutria elimination program, is the restoration of about 30 acres of wetland?
Dr. BALDWIN. That's for the pilot program, yes.
Mr. GILCHREST. And the pilot program would costthis whole pilot program, is there an estimate to the cost?
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. This particular portion of it or the whole thing?
Mr. GILCHREST. I guess the whole thing. How manydo you have an estimate as to the number of years it's going to take to eliminate nutria and are those number of years a part of theI guess, the pilot project then is going to take how long to figure out what to do I suppose and then what's the estimated cost?
Dr. BOUNDS. The pilot program is scheduled for 3 years and during that time we hope to look at the feasibility of complete eradication of nutria and marsh restoration. And we would like to point out that by simply removing nutria you are slow down marsh degradation. However, to bring back those areas that have suffered from severe nutria eat-out, we think we do need to go ahead with wetland restoration, that's why we've included the demonstration project.
Mike Haramis has found on his exclosure study that some of the vegetation comes back, as you see in the poster, but in areas that have been severely overgrazed, you have to do something more aggressive than just remove the nutria. You have to also add back some soil to raise the elevation of the marsh so that the plants can come back.
And to answer your question, the total cost for the 3 year pilot would be $2.9 million. We also have contributions of almost $1 million from the 17 partners. So the total effort would be about $4 million.
Mr. GILCHREST. But you're looking for about 2-something from the Federal Government?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. BOUNDS. Two point nine million.
Mr. GILCHREST. I see. Is there anybody, any other Statehas any other State had an elimination program?
Dr. BOUNDS. We are conducting a survey of all 50 States and focusing on all the State agencies for natural resources and the national wildlife refuges within the States shown in red on this map, to find out how they're managing nutria. To our knowledge, at this time, there are no other plans in States to eradicate nutria.
Mr. GILCHREST. What will be done with the trapped nutria? I mean I understand in past years you've trapped or killed up to 10,000 of these little critters. Is there a specific policy as to what you're going to do with these trapped nutria in this program?
Dr. COLONA. A large portion of the animals will be necropsied and used to obtain data to further this research. Now we'll be
Mr. GILCHREST. They'll be, they'll be what?
Dr. COLONA. They'll be necropsied. We'll look at reproductive tract
Mr. GILCHREST. What was that word? I want to learn this word.
Dr. COLONA. OK. On humans it's autopsy; on animals it's necropsy.
Mr. GILCHREST. Necropsy?
Dr. COLONA. Yes. We will necropsy the animals, look at reproductive tracts
Mr. GILCHREST. So you have a thousand, 10,000; you're going to necropsy how many of that?
Dr. COLONA. A representative sample, a large sample. The rest of them will be
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. So what will theI mean, so you getI'm just curious now because I have a question. You get 10,000; you necropsy 100?
Dr. COLONA. You can necropsy 10 percent.
Mr. GILCHREST. Ten percent, you necropsy 1,000; you've got 9,000 of these things. Seriously, can they be processed at a local processing plant and then sent to Joseph's House in Salisbury or some other place? If it's meat and it's edible, can it be distributed in that manner?
Dr. BALDWIN. I think it could be. I actually have had the opportunity to eat nutria down in Louisiana and I enjoyed it.
Mr. GILCHREST. Can you tell us what it tastes like?
Dr. BALDWIN. I could say it tastes like chicken, but that's the obvious answer. It's actually a light meat and these animals just eat plants so it's a clean meat, they're running wild, it's very low fat. I know that Paul Prudomme and his sister are trying to come up with a recipe to try and further it. It's notthey have a nutria festival there, but still not big because they call
Mr. GILCHREST. Dorchester has a nutria festival?
Dr. BALDWIN. No, this is down in Louisiana.
Mr. GILCHREST. Oh, I wondered why I hadn't gone to that.
Dr. BALDWIN. But they serve nutria and that sort of thing. But it's still not even popular down in Louisiana as a food because they still call it swamp rat or nutria. They don'tI think the concoction that Prudomme came up with called ''Ragondin etoufée,'' which sounds a lot better but
Mr. GILCHREST. I think it would be at leastthen I'll close up my questions. The chairman is being very lenient with me.
Sarah, do you have a comment?
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. Might I respond also? We do have a, although albeit it's more plentiful, we have a program where we provide deer, venison, in our hunting program to various areas that could use the meat to help feed the hunger or to help others and I think we could also look into that as well as a State with respect to nutria.
Mr. GILCHREST. I'm sure it might be worthnow I suppose the program only affects Blackwater refuge. No other spot in Maryland?
Mr. CAROWAN. Oh, no, sir. In terms of the pilot program?
Mr. GILCHREST. Yes.
Mr. CAROWAN. No, sir. The pilot program is actually just using the refuge as one of three sites.
Mr. GILCHREST. Oh, I see.
Mr. CAROWAN. We are particularly interested, as you will hear later, also for looking at Tudor Farms, which is a private site, and they have done a lot of work on their own and are a significant contributing partner to this effort. And we're also looking at the State area on Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area that's managed by Maryland DNR. So we're kind of looking at three different sites throughout Dorchester County.
Mr. GILCHREST. So eventually we're looking to eradicate nutria in the State or, the State of Maryland, that Delmarva Peninsula, this region?
Mr. CAROWAN. That's correct.
Mr. GILCHREST. Often the chairman of the full Committee brings moose meat on the House floor. Maybe Jim and I could bring nutria sometime in the future before the session's over.
And it might become possible in Washington. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SAXTON. Let me just ask Dr. Rogers a question. I get the feeling thatnot only the feelingI mean you've carefully stated that the program is an eradication program not a population control programand then I get the feeling in another court, you know, when we're talking about creating a market for the meat or whatever, that you would rather not, I just get this feeling, you haven't said this, that you would rather not be involved in that because in some ways it runs counter to an eradication program. In other words, if you create a market there's a reason to keep some of these guys around and you don't want to do that. Is that correct?
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. That is correct. I'll be clear in my answer, and the reason why is the resources that so depend upon the Blackwater area for their very life cycle and sustenance, could very well continue to be endangered if we do not eradicate the nutria from this area. And it is those resources that are native to Maryland and native to the Delmarva Peninsula that are important to try to maintain, protect and manage over a non-native specie.
I hope that is a clarification.
Mr. SAXTON. Yes, ma'am, that's very clear and I think that's very helpful. Now what Mr. Gilchrest, who has been the real leader here in Congress on this issue would like to do is to be helpful as possible and he has drafted legislation that I think you're aware of. Is that correct?
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. I have heard that he has drafted it. I haven't seen it but I have heard he has. Yes.
Mr. SAXTON. OK, well, it's a fairly simple bill that goes to support your program which provides for a Federal share not to exceed 50 percent of the total cost of the program and that the local shares can be in the form of income contributions and will authorize the Appropriations Committee to appropriate whatever the amount of money is that's needed. And that is the approach that you're looking for and that's what you want us to do in a general sense. Is that correct?
Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. Yes, we are indeed and you had asked how can the Committee be helpful, that is indeed what we're looking for by way of help. And we will also as a State, be trying to secure some additional supplemental funds to help out with this as well.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you. I have no further questions at this time and we thank you very much for coming and articulating the issues so eloquently for us and helping me as a non-Marylander to understand. I can only hope that we never have them on the New Jersey Coast. So we'll try to help you get rid of them in Maryland so they don't move further north.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. TAYLOR-ROGERS. Thank you kindly.
Mr. SAXTON. OK, well, thank you and some other members may have some additional questions for you and we may ask you to respond to some in writing so the hearing record will remain open.
Now let me introduce our second panel. On Panel two we have Dr. Edward Soutiere, president and manager of Tudor Farms, Inc.; Mr. Richard Pierce, director of operations for the Great Lakes and Atlantic Region office of DU, one of my favorite organizations; and Mr. James Rapp, director of the Salisbury Zoological Park.
As you gentlemen are taking your places at the table behind your sign let me just reiterate that in the interest of our schedule and time we have allotted each of you 5 minutes for your opening statement and that your entire statement will be included in the record should you desire.
And so, sir, Doctor, you may begin at your leisure.
STATEMENT OF EDWARD C. SOUTIERE, PRESIDENT AND MANAGER, TUDOR FARMS, INC.
Dr. SOUTIERE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Gilchrest, my name is Ed Soutiere. I am manager of Tudor Farms. Tudor Farms is a privately owned wildlife management area and hunting preserve located on the Transquaking and Chicamacomico River watersheds upstream of the Blackwater River and Fishing Bay marsh complexes. I manage the farm's 5,500 acres for a variety of wildlife both upland and wetland species, but managing for waterfowl is our priority.
Our 2,400 acres of tidal marsh and 200 acres of manmade freshwater wetlands are important habitat to thousands of ducks, geese and shorebirds. All the tidal marsh upstream and immediately downstream of Tudor Farms is privately owned, and all of this marshland is either owned by waterfowl hunt clubs, leased to waterfowl hunters by the owners, or hunted on by the owners themselves. Today this Committee is addressing the loss of valuable wetlands at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge caused in part by the nutria. I welcome this opportunity to remind the Committee that private owners of wetlands in Dorchester County, Maryland are suffering the same losses and damage and that we too are interested in finding a solution.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the 9 years that I have managed Tudor Farms, 500 acres of vegetated tidal marsh have converted to mudflats and open water. Marsh loss is greatest, averaging 30 percent to 40 percent in the in the broad marsh expanses adjacent to the Transquaking and Chicamacomico Rivers, and least in the narrow headwater marshes of the creeks feeding into these rivers. Early on my staff and I recognized that nutria were damaging the marsh with their feeding and traveling activities. In addition, nutria feed in our crop fields and landscape plantings, and dig and burrow in our water control dikes and structures causing thousands of dollars of damage annually. I might also add that last year our veterinarian bills for our hunting dogs was $2,000, that is they had confrontations with nutria and it took that much to put them back together again.
Hoping to control, if not reduce, the population of nutria on Tudor Farms, I opened the farm to trapping by several local trappers in 1992. These trappers were of course most interested in trapping muskrat, raccoon and fox for which there is a good, strong fur market. There is no market for the fur of nutria in Maryland, so I gave the trappers the cash incentive of $1.25 for each nutria killed. In 1995 Tudor Farms awarded a research grant to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to study the nutria on Tudor Farms and to determine what if any effect, the trapping was having on the nutria population. The graduate student, Lara Ras, who conducted the research will complete her program of study at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore this fall and Ms. Ras is also sitting in the audience.
At this time, I can tell you that the number of nutria trapped or shot each trapping season since 1992 has remained relatively stable at about 5,000 per year. The estimates of nutria numbers on Tudor Farms have also remained stable at 17,000 to 24,000, or 7 to 10 nutria per acre of marsh. This means that at best we have succeeded in removing only 25 percent of the nutria population each year. For nutria, which reach sexual maturity at 6 months of age and which can have two or three litters of four or five young per year, this is no control at all.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have concluded that traditional trapping during the 4-month fur-bearer season in Maryland cannot alone control nutria numbers. Furthermore, the removal of 25 percent of a nutria population each year is insufficient to arrest the loss of vegetated marshland.
Eradication, a much more difficult objective than control, is a desirable goal for Maryland if we are to have any hope of retaining our valuable tidal marshes. But eradication would require the dedicated effort of a professional staff working full-time and year-round for several years and some help from Mother Nature to achieve. Public support for the eradication effort will be essential, for as Dr. Gosling noted during his 1994 seminar at Tudor Farms on the subject of the United Kingdom nutria eradication program, in the eradication program ''the only nutria you are paying for is the last one.''
Tudor Farms will support the pilot project, ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland'' with contributions of cash and in-kind assistance. We have a vested interest in maintaining a healthy wetland system in the Chesapeake Bay. I believe our neighbors share our interest. I urge this Committee to support the funding request for the proposed pilot project. We clearly need to move quickly to find and develop techniques to save and restore our fast vanishing marshlands.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Soutiere may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. Doctor, thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF RICHARD B. PIERCE, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS FOR DUCKS UNLIMITED, INC.S GREAT LAKES/ATLANTIC REGIONAL OFFICE
Mr. PIERCE. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Congressman Gilchrest. My name is Richard Pierce, and I am director of operations for Ducks Unlimited Great Lakes and Atlantic Regional Office. My staff and I are responsible for delivering Ducks Unlimited's conservation programs along with the mid-Atlantic coast.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ducks Unlimited is the largest non-government waterfowl and wetland conservation organization in the world, having more than a million supporters. Since its founding in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has raised more than $1 billion to conserve over eight million acres of critical wildlife habitat in all 50 States, eight Canadian provinces, and key areas in Mexico.
Since 1987, Ducks Unlimited has worked with State, Federal and private conservation partners to restore, protect and enhance over 40,000 acres of wetlands and associated habitat within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In May 1997, we announced our Chesapeake Bay initiative, a joint partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other partners, to restore wildlife habitat on an integrated landscape approach and improve water quality by reducing sediment and nutria loading into the Chesapeake Bay. This initiative is an ambitious effort to restore over 90,000 acres of wildlife habitat and raise some $20 million to support our conservation efforts and the efforts of our State and Federal partners. Through this initiative we have been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Interior to implement conservation programs including the Partners for Wildlife Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.
The tidal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay provides habitat for over 1 million wintering waterfowl which accounts for approximately 35 percent of all waterfowl wintering in the Atlantic Flyway. Species of continental importance including the American Black ducks, Canvasback, Leser and Greater Scaup, and the Atlantic Population of Canada Geese. In addition to waterfowl, the Bay's ecosystem support over 2,700 species of fish and wildlife.
As you have heard from previous testimony, nutria, an introduced exotic species, have caused severe damage to the tidal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay. Due to the dependence of large populations of waterfowl and other wildlife on these affected ecosystem, Ducks Unlimited finds that controlling nutria populations and restoring tidal wetlands is a priority for our Chesapeake Bay initiative. Impacts to tidal marshes are a result of several factors, including sea level rise, land subsidence, erosion and nutria. Nutria are large herbivore that feed directly on the vegetation that provides structure to a marsh. Their impacts result in a change in the vegetative composition of an emergent marsh, and even the total loss of the marsh to open water. In either case the vegetative communities are altered and productive waterfowl and wildlife habitat is lost.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Nutria feeding habitats create a highly erosive conditions and leave the marsh pitted with holes and swim channels and often void of vegetation. The primary food source for nutria is three square bulrush. That same bulrush is also a favorite and valuable food for wintering waterfowl. The loss of this vegetation component leads to a reduction in the vertebrae populations which migratory waterfowl readily depend upon.
Additionally, increased rates of erosion in concert with rising sea levels and the increase in the hydroperiod or flooding regime of the marsh, which limits the ability of three square bulrush and other plants to regenerate a site. The swim channels through the marsh also permit the tidal inundation of many isolated and interior ponds that support submerged aquatic vegetation. The increase in salinity and turbidity limits the growing conditions for submerged aquatic vegetation, and has reduced many interior ponds to barren mud flats. Submerged aquatic vegetation is an important food source for migrating and wintering waterfowl, especially the American Black duck, a species of priority concern in the Atlantic Flyway.
The restoration of tidal wetlands is an important component of our Chesapeake Bay Initiative. Tidal wetland systems are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, supporting thousands of aquatic and terrestrial species, including many that are threatened and endangered. Maryland has lost over 73 percent of its original wetlands making the remaining wetlands vital to maintain the health of the Bay's ecosystem.
Unfortunately, large expanses of Maryland's remaining marshes have been degraded by nutria. Therefore, Ducks Unlimited supports this plan and its goal of controlling nutria populations and restoring marsh habitat. We also support the plan's efforts to study alternative restoration techniques in order to minimize cost and increase restoration effectiveness once it begins. Controlling nutria is just one step in slowing the rate of marsh loss in Chesapeake Bay. Restoration projects should also be implemented as soon as possible in order to study restoration techniques and to establish demonstration projects that educate the public on the importance of these coastal marshes.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, members of this Committee, thank you for your time and attention. I have provided a copy of my written testimony and ask that it be included in the record.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Pierce may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much, Mr. Pierce. That was very informative and articulate testimony and we appreciate it.
STATEMENT OF JIM RAPP, DIRECTOR, SALISBURY ZOOLOGICAL PARK
Mr. RAPP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Gilchrest. My name is Jim Rapp and I'm director of the Salisbury Zoological Park in Salisbury, Maryland. I've worked for the zoo for 10 years serving in a number of capacities including the zoo's education director.
The Salisbury Zoo has been a member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the AZA, since 1972, and has an annual attendance of about 250,000 visitors including 15,000 local school children.
The Salisbury Zoo appreciates the opportunity to testify before the Committee on the pilot program proposal. The zoo supports this proposal and expects to be an integral partner in carrying out the educational mission of the proposal.
As I am the last speaker today, my comments will focus on the educational impacts of introducing exotic species to our Nation's ecosystems, and the importance of educating the public to prevent further destruction of Maryland wetlands.
Exotic species introductions, whether intentional or unintentional, seem to be an inevitable result of human activities which may result in both economic and ecological problems. It has been estimated that over 90 percent of all such introductions have been harmful in some respect. As U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Jamie Clark said, ''invasive species tend to be very adaptive, aggressive and resilient. Once they are established, we are unlikely to ever completely eradicate them.'' In fact, Mr. Chairman, this last past Sunday, CNN aired a new segment from their ''Earth Matters'' program called ''Invader Animals'' that illustrated the devastating effects of exotic species in the U.S.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The United States has been the unfortunate recipient of exotic species since colonial times but the problem has grown to new heights during this century. In the late 1920's the migration of the sea lamprey into the Great Lakes began its reign of terror on populations of lake trout. Since that time our Nation has been in a constant battle to prevent either the spread of established exotic species or the introduction of new ones. However, one species in particular, the zebra mussel, truly heightened the dangers of exotic species to local ecosystems and what is necessary to prevent further damage. The zebra mussel was unintentionally introduced into the Great Lakes during the 1980's through untreated ballast of ships and in less than 10 years it has established itself throughout the Great Lakes to Mississippi River, and many other of our national waterways. The zebra mussel has caused tens of millions of dollars in damage through filtration systems throughout these areas and at the same time has smothered populations of native clams, mussels and other aquatic life.
In addition to zebra mussels, exotic species such as the gypsy moth and pine boring beetle, have caused billions of dollars in damage to our forests, fields and waterways as well as our agriculture and timber industries. Other exotic species affect a number of ecosystems by displacing native species such as the exotic mute swan, the giant reed known Phragmites, and the devastating brown tree snake. The brown tree snake was introduced to Guam in the late 1940's aboard military equipment. The snake has since then spread throughout the formerly snake-free island, eating the majority of Guam's native bird population. The result: there are no more native birds in the wild on Guam and the forest is eerily silent. The brown tree snake's devastation is also felt throughout Micronesia. Two critically endangered species, the Guam Rail and the Micronesian kingfisher are the focus of a breeding program and recovery plan involving the Department of the Interior and 30 institutional members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Hopefully, these two species can be returned to their native island habitat someday.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In an effort to preserve native ecosystems and species that depend on them and to curb the adverse effects of exotic species introductions, biologists have recommended numerous methods of population control and sometimes complete eradication of exotic species.
The State of Maryland, particularly the Eastern Shore of Maryland, finds itself with a serious nutria problem. Mr. Chairman, as the Committee is well aware, the Chesapeake Bay and the wetlands of the Eastern Shore are recognized as some of the most important ecological areas in the United States and have received global recognition as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention Treaty. Maryland's wetlands are used for fishing, hunting, trapping, berry and timber harvesting, and the growing interest in bird-watching and outdoor photography. The Salisbury Zoo has been an active partner in developing ecotourism on the Eastern Shore to the promotion of the Delmarva Birding Weekend, and the creation of the Delmarva Birding Guide. The Wetlands in this area are home to hundreds of species of animals and plants and serve as important or nursery sites for many thin fish and shell fish. These wetlands are also vitally important to over one million waterfowl that winter in the Chesapeake Bay or use it as part of their migration. Resource managers fear that without intervention the significant ecological, cultural and economic benefits of wetlands in Maryland will be completely lost within the next decade.
While it is important to confront the threats of develop, erosion, and agricultural runoff to Maryland wetlands, dealing with the exotic nutria can be perhaps an easier task. The goal of the Nutria Control Program is to develop methods and strategies to control nutria populations, restore marsh habitat and promote public understanding of the importance of preserving Maryland's wetlands. The pilot program for control and eventual eradication of nutria will also be extremely beneficial in preventing future species from being added to the Endangered Species Act, especially if the nutria continues its conquest of wetlands habitat in the U.S. The primary mission of the Salisbury Zoo is to increase the public's awareness and appreciation of wildlife and encourage citizens to become active in conservation efforts. The zoo would be a natural partner with Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and other members of the public education committee, for sharing information about the significance of wetlands restoration and nutria control.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I believe this proposal is a good practical first step in trying to better understand the scope of nutria problem in the Blackwater watershed, and how to best take on this destructive adversary. An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure, and weighing the cost of long-term nutria destruction and the cost of this pilot program, I believe the answer is clear.
Thank you for allowing me to testify in support of the proposed pilot program for marsh restoration and nutria control.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rapp may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much, Mr. Rapp. I'm particularly pleased that you spoke of other non-indigenous species that have been either introduced intentionally or unintentionally throughout not only our country but some other parts of the world as well. It seems to me that what we're experiencing here can be a lesson that we should take very seriously. So thank you for your testimony.
I would also like to make note that Mr. Greg Linscombe who is the programs manager, Fur and Refuge Division of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is here with us today and has submitted some testimony which I ask unanimous consent be included in the record.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Linscombe may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. SAXTON. And I think it's noteworthy, this problem, along with being an Eastern Shore problem is obviously a horrendous problem in Louisiana as well. This testimony says in part that the control of nutria in Louisiana is among the top priorities for the State of Louisiana, where over 3.3 million acres of coastal wetlands now exist. Wetland damage in Louisiana attributable to nutria is now conservatively estimated to exceed 80,000 acres in the South East portion of the state.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So this is, indeed, a very serious problem and one that this member and I know, Mr. Gilchrest, take very seriously. We've been chatting here during the last hour or so about how to proceed and I don't know that we have come to any firm conclusion except to say that we are going to put the finishing touches to Mr. Gilchrest's bill or he is and then we will proceed in an expedited fashion to deal with it through this Committee and on the floor of the House.
Mr. Gilchrest, do you have any questions at this time for this panel?
Mr. GILCHREST. Just a few, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Dr. Soutiere, it's good to see you again. We haven't seen each other for quite a few years now.
Dr. SOUTIERE. You again, sir.
Mr. GILCHREST. Family doing all right?
Dr. SOUTIERE. They're doing well.
Mr. GILCHREST. I guess the kids are grown up now.
Dr. SOUTIERE. Well, Shawn, we finally got him out of college.
Mr. GILCHREST. You did? I have two still in college but they're about ready toone more year.
Dr. SOUTIERE. Thank you for asking.
Mr. GILCHREST. Shawn's doing all right?
Dr. SOUTIERE. Yes.
Mr. GILCHREST. That's great. Tell him I said hi. I taught Shawn in high school.
Dr. Soutiere, this nutria population, has it impacted or reduced the population of opossum on Tudor Farms, or raccoons or fox or anything? Have they displaced any of those other animals?
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. SOUTIERE. It has not displaced any of the uplands species which you happen to have listed. There's some sense that the muskrat has declined as the nutria numbers have increased. Trappers certainly are not catching as many muskrat on our marshes as they did historically. I can't point that there's any direct antagonism between the two species but certainly they're occupying similar habitats and eating the same kinds of plants. And I would say when nutria eats its dinner muskrat doesn't get a chance to eat it.
Mr. GILCHREST. You said, did you say that there can sometimes be pretty violent conflicts, confrontation between the nutria and hunting dogs?
Dr. SOUTIERE. I have had both staff injured and my dogs have been injured. Dogs of course don't know better and will attack nutria cornered. They're very aggressive. You can see that the long incisors on that mounted nutria in front of you. They cut and slash. They're very capable of defending themselves and I've had one employee who, he boxed in a nutria so I guess in a way you could say he put the animal on the defense, tore right through his hip boots and made a pretty bad gash wound in the upper thigh. They're capable of defending themselves.
Mr. GILCHREST. Are there any beaver down there at Tudor Farms?
Dr. SOUTIERE. There are no beaver on Tudor Farms.
Mr. GILCHREST. You also mentioned, is there a difference between the hide of muskrat, opossum, raccoon, nutria that makes nutria not a very profitable hide to sell?
Dr. SOUTIERE. Very definite differences. Probably the best to compare is with the muskrat and the nutria. The muskrat has a thicker fur, it's finer, denser. The fur of the nutria tends to be quite coarse and has a longer guard hairs and the only good hair, a good portion of the fur tends to be on the belly so if there is any market it's only for a small portion of the actual pelt. In recent years there's been no economic market to speak of for the nutria. The fur industry and the fur market for fur coats has been weak in general.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. Has there ever been any reports of nutria with rabies?
Dr. SOUTIERE. Not to my knowledge, no.
Mr. GILCHREST. This is a little off the subject but is there a phragmite problem in Tudor Farms?
Dr. SOUTIERE. We don't have a problem per se because we've aggressively attacked phragmites. We spend about $25,000 a year controlling phragmites. I guess you could say that's a problem. But it's certainly not like the Delaware marshes where it's totally taken over. Ours is limited to smaller pockets and we're aggressively going after it.
Mr. GILCHREST. Are you aware of nutria livingI would guess Delaware has a similar problem or at least some problem. Can nutriaand I'm not suggesting this as an alternative
Dr. SOUTIERE. You're about to ask me if we eat phragmites.
Mr. GILCHREST. No, can nutria live in, within phragmites given the difference between that and marsh grass and what Doctor, Mr. Pierce has referred to as
Dr. SOUTIERE. Square bulrush. Three-square bulrush.
Mr. GILCHREST. Three-square bulrush.
Dr. SOUTIERE. Only three square. Three square. Only three square is the preferred food of both the nutria and the muskrat. Nutria certainly live in phragmites stands but we see very little evidence that they do much grazing on the root tubers of phragmites. Certainly not enough to do any damage to it unlike the damage they do to the three square marshes.
Mr. GILCHREST. We're in a 3-year, I think we're in the third year going into the fourth year of a moratorium on Canada goose hunting based on the population.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. SOUTIERE. On the migratory
Mr. GILCHREST. On the migratory Canada goose. Have you seen any change in the population of Canada goose in and around Tudor Farms in the last three, 4 years?
Dr. SOUTIERE. I can read that question two ways: The migratory
Mr. GILCHREST. Totally academic. I just want migratories. I'm not concerned with the
Dr. SOUTIERE. The migratories, we saw a very nice increase in the numbers of migratory birds during the last fall migration. Now our resident flock of geese are rapidly approaching nuisance numbers.
Mr. GILCHREST. Really?
Dr. SOUTIERE. Yes.
Mr. GILCHREST. Another pilot program. We'll get Duncan Hunter down there, turning the animals. The whole posse.
A couple of other quick questions. Mr. Pierce, what would beand I know someone mentioned in their testimony that the stamp, part of the money from the stamp program would be contributed to the Nutria Elimination Program. Was I correct when I heard that?
Mr. PIERCE. The comment was from the lady from Maryland and I believe she was referring to the waterhouse stamp issued by the State of Maryland.
Mr. GILCHREST. What would be Ducks Unlimited's contribution to the Nutria Eradication Program?
Mr. PIERCE. Our contributions would primarily be in the restoration field in restoring the marshes and both our technology and expertise here.
Mr. GILCHREST. So then you would work with Dr. Baldwin from the University of Maryland in that program that he described?
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PIERCE. That's correct.
Mr. GILCHREST. How have you restoredyou mentioned restoring 40,000 acres of wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Could you give us some idea how that process went? How you restored some of those wetlands? Was it through mitigation system, was it restoring wetlands that had been drained or filled in the past?
Mr. PIERCE. A couple of different approaches. The first approach would be working with private land owners to restore impacted wetlands on their property at their wish and their desire; providing again technical assistance and monetary assistance; helping the natural resources, conservation service deliver those programs throughout the Susquehanna River drainage, through all the States impacted there. And also working on the public-owned marshes with our Federal and State partners to do restoration work on those marshes.
Mr. GILCHREST. Has that been a pretty successful operation? Much resistance? Pretty good working relationship with Federal and State agencies and private land owners?
Mr. PIERCE. Very good, particularly with our partners in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Federal and State partners included so a great number of people are interested in this area and are working very well.
Mr. GILCHREST. I would suppose then you would agree with the total elimination policy of the nutria?
Mr. PIERCE. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Mr. GILCHREST. Have you seen an increase in the laboratory county goose population in the last few years?
Mr. PIERCE. The Atlantic population has recovered, not fully recovered, but has rebounded very well. Last fall we had very good fall flights and we're not going to recommend or we'll not be increasing hunting. But yes, a very good increase and an explosion in the locals and that created confusions amongst people living in the area.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. So you said your recommendation would be tonow the moratorium was three to 5 years and I think we're going into our fourth year.
Mr. PIERCE. I believe the Fish and Wildlife Service has said they will continue for one more year with it.
Mr. GILCHREST. So do you agree with that assessment?
Mr. PIERCE. We agree with the Fish and Wildlife Service's recommendations.
Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you.
Mr. Rapp, Salisbury Zoo, do you have any live nutria down there?
Mr. RAPP. We have in the past and we've discussed it as part of a South American exhibit but not a native Eastern Shore exhibit. Don't want to give people that impression.
Mr. GILCHREST. So are you going to have a display of nutria?
Mr. RAPP. We discussed it. We're doing a master plan right now for the zoo that we really want to focus. Our collection is based on north and South American wildlife which is fairly interesting as to the nutria problem and we've exhibited them in a South American context before. We'd like to bring them back in, especially with this program being introduced, it would be very beneficial for local school children to see what they look like and create an awareness.
It is a bit of an issue, you know, talking to children about basically eradicating an animal but conservation and ecology is what we talk about in zoos. It goes beyond just an appreciation for living things. Very interested in exhibiting nutria again but just females.
Mr. GILCHREST. You couldn't put a little display next to that, you know, cage where the nutria would reside with a little table there and some kind of a hot sauce, whatever they use. A sample.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. RAPP. A sample table.
Mr. GILCHREST. A sample table.
Mr. RAPP. We sure could. Could be a good fundraiser for us. I don't know.
Mr. GILCHREST. They could come in with a little tooth pick.
Mr. RAPP. On a tooth pick?
Mr. GILCHREST. Do you have anywould you say that the pilot program as you understand it isI guess you would agree withwould you agree with elimination?
Mr. RAPP. Yes, I would. I go to Blackwater frequently, birdwatching and wildlife viewing. It's a tremendous growing industry in our area and just the effects, as has been demonstrated by most folks up here, of what nutria can do to a marsh would severely destroy a lot of the opportunities we have done there for wildlife viewing and that is, we're beginning that market now.
We've been very pleased with the responses we've had. Not just the zoo and other partners in promoting, not just birdwatching, but canoeing, kayaking and the like and you don't want to canoe through a nutria marsh. What are you going to look at? But you want to go through a healthyonly you see a lot of adversity.
Mr. GILCHREST. What do you see are the Salisbury's Zoo's contribution to this project?
Mr. RAPP. We'd like to develop a program focused toward school children and adults as well, but a program dealing with the subject of introduced species. We do that quite a bit as it is right now. We have a program actually adopted through a National Wildlife Federation Environmental Education Manual called ''Invaders in Paradise'' that deals with introduced species on Hawaii, and it's actually a play that kids do that takes about 15 minutes.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You start off in the pristine era of Hawaii a couple of hundred years ago, you bring in the rats and the pigs and the goats and all these animals don't belong there. And Hawaii is a great case in point. I believe it's about 50 percent of their birds are endangered right now and they lost 50 percent, extinct. Island species is a little bit more sensitive on occasion than some of our species in the 48 States but nonetheless it's a very serious problem on the island nation as well as on the Eastern Shore, but it really gives kids an idea that this isn't part of what the national system is all about.
You mentioned very well in your earlier statements, about tying in machinery of nature and nutria just don't fit. Not up here they don't.
Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you very much, Mr. Rapp, Mr. Pierce, and Dr. Soutiere. We welcome your input and we'll do what we can on this level to help everybody out down there, Great State of Maryland plus the Eastern Shore. Thank you gentlemen, very much.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you, Mr. Gilchrest. Let me just pause to discuss one other issue that has been raised here on a couple of occasions and that is the local Canada goose issue. I guess I learned a while back that in as much as this is a sub-species, it wasn't necessarily indigenous to the Eastern part of the country. Is that what you understand, Mr. Pierce?
Mr. PIERCE. That's correct. The giant Canada geese were reintroduced by Fish and Wildlife agencies throughout the upper midwest and the east coast.
Mr. SAXTON. They were indigenous to the upper midwest?
Mr. PIERCE. Yes.
Mr. SAXTON. But not to the east coast?
Mr. PIERCE. Mr. Chairman, I can't answer that. I don't think so but that's a guess.
Mr. SAXTON. In my lifetime I've seen different patterns seemingly exist. One pattern is the one that you've mentioned about the, what do you call them, an epidemic of local geese or something like that. In addition to that, I've always been curious. When I was a young adult, I think we almost had to go to the Eastern Shore if we wanted to see or hunt Canada geese and then over a decade or two all of a sudden I guess determined short stop in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, that seems to me to be a different pattern even with regard to the migratory species. Is that correct?
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PIERCE. The Giant Canadas basically don't migrate.
Mr. SAXTON. The Giant Canadas are what we refer to as local?
Mr. PIERCE. As local, yes, and the migratory birds, their pattern has been impacted by these resident geese who stay there, who attract and hold the migratory birds also by changes in agriculture that's opened up the landscape and made good wintering areas in the upper midwest and in further northern areas with farm ponds and large reservoirs constructed by man and also in part by the refuge systems.
Mr. SAXTON. So the introduction of a non-indigenous species, or what we believe is probably a non-indigenous species, the Giants, had an effect on the life patterns of the migratory birds? You surmise?
Mr. PIERCE. I'm not sure I could say that but probably. The Canadas colonized this area on their own. I'm not sure they were even brought into this area. They were introduced in the upper midwest and I think have expanded to these areas.
Mr. SAXTON. I see.
Mr. GILCHREST. Jim, if I could give you an unscientific perspective. I think Mr. Pierce is right when he said the changes in agriculture when they went from growing tomatoes on the Eastern Shore to growing wheat, they had inefficient combines, they left a lot of corn on the ground and things like that. So that the migratory birds, instead of going to North Carolina, they begin to stop more often on the Eastern Shore and then since then, you know change in climate and patterns and, I remember, and then the change of some of these Canada migratory birds stopping in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, mild winters and the whole thing.
But I think it was the change of agriculture that really began the migratory birds from stopping, or started them stopping on the Eastern Shore.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much. I'd like to thank you for your insights and also Mr. Gilchrest for his great effort on this nutria problems. Members of the Subcommittee may have some additional questions for the witnesses and we will ask you to respond to them in writing. The hearing record will be kept open for 30 days for your responses. If there is no further business, the chairman again thanks the members and the Subcommittee, and our witnesses as well.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Subcommittee stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 3:46 p.m., the Subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Additional material submitted for the record follows.]
STATEMENT OF GLENN A. CAROWAN, JR, REFUGE MANAGER, BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, CAMBRIDGE, MARYLAND, UNITED STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to be here today to discuss the Fish and Wildlife Service' efforts, along with many other interested parties, to control nutria at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere. I began my career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) 28 years ago at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in North Carolina, and after many other assignments became manager at Blackwater NWR in June 1989.
Damage caused by nutria is a major problem at Blackwater and elsewhere in Maryland and in the southern United States. Tidal, fresh-to-brackish water marshes along the Eastern Shore of Maryland are some of the most biologically productive, ecologically valuable, and economically important habitats in the United States. Unfortunately, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Since 1938, thousands of acres of brackish tidal-marshland, dominated by Olney three-square bulrush (Scirpus americanus) and other emergent plants, have been degraded and converted to open-water habitat along Maryland's lower Eastern Shore.
Marsh losses may be most severe on and around the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, which currently includes approximately 10,000 acres of combined vegetated marsh and open-water habitat. Refuge biologists estimate that over 7,000 acres of vegetated marsh have been lost along the Blackwater River in the past half century, and that the rate of loss has accelerated substantially during the past decade (as much as 500 acres a year in recent years). Resource managers fear that these wetlands, which provide significant ecological, cultural, and economic benefits, will continue to disappear at an increasing rate unless prompt action is taken.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Olney three-square bulrush that dominates these habitats on Maryland's Eastern Shore is a vital component of the brackish tidal-marshes. The rhizomes of these plants form a dense root mat that retains sediments and stabilizes the marsh. The structural integrity provided by these root mats promotes habitat diversity and determines the functional qualities of the marsh. These coastal marshes provide extraordinarily valuable ecological services and human benefits. For example, decomposing marsh plants provide detritus that supports the food-web of the Chesapeake Bay estuary. Commercial and non-commercial fish and shellfish depend upon the efficient transfer of primary to secondary production that occurs in these marshes, and many species depend upon these habitats as feeding and nursery grounds. Approximately 35 percent of all migrating waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway depend on these marshes as resting and feeding sites. Bald eagles fish and scavenge the marshes to support the largest nesting population of this species north of Florida on the Atlantic Coast. A half billion dollar a year sport fishing industry is directly linked to the productivity of Maryland's marshes, as is an impressive commercial blue crabbing, oystering, and fishing industry which is also valued in the millions of dollars.
Costanza and Farber, in their report on ''The Economic Value of Wetlands in Terrebone Parish Louisiana'' estimated the value of the coastal marshes to be $28,200/acre/year for all types of economic benefits and recreational activities. Based on the Louisiana estimate, the 10,000 acres of existing and potentially recoverable marshland on Blackwater Refuge can therefore be estimated to be worth about $282,000,000 a year (for all types of economic uses and benefits including, but not limited to, sport and commercial fishing, hunting, wildlife observation, and a wide variety of ecotourism activities). However, such economic assessments, while important to the economic well-being of Maryland, do not begin to account for the myriad of other ecological functions provided by these marshes such as nutrient removal, erosion and flood water control, improved water quality, and exceptional wildlife habitat. The health and stability of Chesapeake Bay wetlands contributes directly to the quality of life for Maryland residents.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The decline of these tidewater marshlands along Maryland's lower Eastern Shore and the resultant adverse environmental, economic, and cultural effects may be due to several factors; however, recent acceleration in marsh loss appears to be directly related to increases in populations of nutria (Myocastor coypus). Nutria are alien, non-indigenous species that are highly invasive. These semiaquatic rodents are equipped with long front teeth and powerfully clawed feet that enable them to excavate the root-mat and devour up to 25 percent of their body weight a day. Nutria often grow up to 3-feet long, and can weigh up to 30 pounds. They are extremely prolific animals, reach sexual maturity at four to six months, breed year-round, and produce average litters of four to five offspring, two or three times a year. Picture a pack of brown Pac Men with a taste for precious marshland, and you have a fairly good concept of nutria.
Nutria are indigenous to South America; their original range was in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Fur-farming introductions extended that range into the United States between 1899 and 1940 with introductions into California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, New Mexico, Louisiana, Ohio, and Utah. But fur-farming attempts failed due to high mortality rates and low reproductive success in captivity. Many of the nutria were freed into the wild when the businesses failed in the late 1940s. State and Federal agencies and individuals translocated nutria into Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas with the intent that nutria would control undesirable vegetation and enhance trapping opportunities. Nutria were also sold as ''weed cutters'' to an unsuspecting public throughout the Southeast, and a hurricane in the late 1940s scattered nutria over wide areas of coastal Louisiana and Texas.
Accidental and intentional releases have thus led to widespread and localized feral populations in 22 states and Ontario, and to reports of sightings in at least 40 states and three Canadian provinces in North America. The other states with established populations include Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia. Range expansion of this highly adaptive rodent seems to be limited only by extreme cold. All national wildlife refuges and wildlife departments in the 22 states with established nutria populations are currently being surveyed to determine nutria abundance, habitat damage, and management activities.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The first recorded introduction of nutria in Maryland occurred in 1943, although it is probable that nutria were first released in Maryland's lower Eastern Shore marshes in the late 1930s. The Fur Animal Station on the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was in operation from 1939 to 1947, and during that time nutria were reared in captivity for experimental purposes. In 1943, nutria reportedly escaped from the pens. In the spring of 1951 and summer of 1952, adjacent landowners released 5 pair of nutria on Coles Creek marsh and 20 nutria on Gibbs marsh at Meekins Creek, respectively. In 1956, refuge personnel were instructed to remove nutria from the refuge by any means available. During 1957-59, it appeared that the nutria population on the refuge was under control.
However, during these years, nutria populations on adjoining private marshlands exploded, and animals eventually found their way onto the refuge once again. From 1962 through 1968, the population on the refuge was estimated at less than 150 nutria per year. But the population made a giant leap in 1969 to an estimated 2,075. By 1976, the population had expanded even further, and 2,894 nutria were harvested on the refuge. The total harvest of Maryland nutria fluctuated between 1,500 and 5,000 from 1971 to 1976. During the 1976-77 trapping season, the harvest peaked at a record 29,679 (due to increased market, ideal trapping conditions, and trapper interest.) In the winter of 1976-77, an estimated 90 percent of the Maryland population froze to death during a prolonged period of freezing in January and February of 1977. The population quickly recovered, and by the late 1980s State-wide estimates were higher than ever before. From 1990 through 1997, 35,000 nutria were killed on Blackwater Refuge alone. On Tudor Farms, an adjoining privately owned tract in Dorchester County, between 4,000-5,000 are harvested annually. The current refuge population is estimated to range from 35,00050,000, but there is the need for more rigorous studies to validate these numbers.
Alarmingly, nutria numbers and their range appear to be increasing and expanding, as considerable amounts of marsh damage is occurring and there are numerous new sightings on the western shore in the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The story is very similar, but even worse in Louisiana where thirteen nutria were released in 1937; by the late 1950s that population was estimated to exceed 20 million animals. Populations in the United States are most dense along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas. In Louisiana, autumn densities of about 18 animals per acre have been recorded in freshwater marshes. In Oregon, summer densities in freshwater marshes may be as high as 56 animals per acre, while on Blackwater Refuge, population densities range from 1 to 6 animals per acre (with 3.3 animals per acre being the average during the last population survey in 1995).
Nutria have devastating effects on marsh vegetation because they forage on rootstalks and excavate entire plants. At Blackwater, 80 percent of their diet is composed of three-square bulrush. The result is that they not only denude the marsh, they also destroy the root mat that is the structural fabric holding the marsh Together. Furthermore, nutria fragment the marsh with innumerable swimming canals, which serve to focus tidal currents and promote erosion, leading to the lowering of the marsh and conversion of emergent marsh to open water. Nutria, however, are not limited to causing damage to the marshlands. In many states, they are also responsible for damage to forested wetlands, bald cypress restoration efforts, agricultural crops, and levees. Nationwide, nutria may pose significant ecological and economic impacts.
While nutria may be the dominant factor contributing to marsh loss, it is likely that other forces, including increased salinity (due to land subsidence and sea-level rise), play a role in determining the ecological structure and function of these tidal marshes. Resource managers have little power to control land subsidence, sea-level rise, and salinity changes, but nutria populations can be controlled for the benefit of the marsh ecosystem. Therefore, an effective plan to preserve and restore these fragile brackish tidal-marshes and their ecological, cultural, and economic values must involve efforts aimed at eradicating nutria; wetland restoration efforts would be severely jeopardized if nutria were allowed to continue foraging.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Accordingly, 17 Federal, state, and private organizations have joined forces since 1993 to develop a plan to determine the feasibility of eliminating nutria from Maryland. The initial phase of this effort, entitled ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland,'' is based upon years of collaboration among the partners; input from private landowners, trappers, watermen, scientists, marsh ecologists, and animal control experts; recommendations from private and agency wetland restoration experts; and recommendations from Dr. L.M. Gosling, a world renowned nutria expert from Great Britain. Dr. Gosling planned and supervised Great Britain's successful 1O-year nutria eradication program, and was invited to visit the Eastern Shore by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 1994.
His recommendations have helped guide many of our efforts to date. Based on both his successes and failures in Great Britain, he recommended that the first strategy should be to confirm that nutria were the primary cause of the extensive damage to the marshland ecosystem. To accomplish this, he recommended that a series of enclosures be randomly erected in the Blackwater/Fishing Bay marshes to measure the impact of nutria damage, and to demonstrate the ability of the marsh to recover. This research activity has been conducted in a joint effort between the State of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Mr. Michael Haramis will testify to the details of this study, ''The Effect of Nutria (Myocastor coypus) on Marsh Loss In The Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland: An Exclosure Study.'' Preliminary results of the study indicate that nutria are indeed greatly accelerating marsh loss.
Secondly, Dr. Gosling strongly recommended that a pilot eradication scheme be designed to help estimate the size of the trapper force required, and to gain more information on nutria behavior and movements to help plan trapping tactics in more extensive marshland areas. Dr. Gosling also recommended that we test a trapping organization, establish the strategic deployment of trapping effort based on catch per unit effort, evaluate trapping techniques on target and non-target species, determine changes in reproduction as population size changes, and develop public awareness about the need to control nutria within Maryland (and other areas of the country). The proposed pilot program includes all these recommendations, and additionally includes an experimental wetlands restoration demonstration project. Several of our partners have agreed to help in educating the public about the importance of nutria eradication.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The pilot program, a copy of which I am providing for the record, has generated high hopes for halting marsh loss. In answer to the question, ''Is it possible to eradicate nutria in Maryland?'', Dr. Gosling's assessment is that ''a number of factors make the prospects of eradication in Maryland even more likely than they were at a comparable stage in England. These include a more efficient trapping technique, better mobility over water, and lower population fecundity. Experience in England has shown that it is possible to eradicate a substantial nutria population over a large area of wetland habitat, and given the successful resolution of the issues (in the pilot eradication scheme discussed above), there is no impediment to eradication.'' Dr. Gosling concludes by saying, ''On balance, the factors favoring eradication outweigh potential obstacles, and it could be possible to complete the task more quickly than in England.''
The National Wildlife Refuge System exists for the protection and management of plants and animals native to the United States. The policy of the Service is to prevent further introduction of exotic species on national wildlife refuges, and to protect trust resources from the adverse impacts of competing with exotic species. Therefore, in addition to being extremely important to the future of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the information gained from the pilot program will also be applicable to other refuges within the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), to state-managed areas, and to private marshlands throughout the United States and the world. The Maryland Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at University of Maryland Eastern Shore is currently surveying all state wildlife agencies and other units of the NWRS to determine the extent of the nutria problem in an effort to work cooperatively to help address these concerns and educate the public on the national level.
If successful, this program will certainly help Blackwater and other national wildlife refuges achieve the mission of the NWRS and the purposes for which these individual units were established by Congress. The severity of marsh loss and the adverse effects of nutria foraging and burrowing on our forested and emergent wetlands, agricultural areas, dikes and levees, waterfowl management impoundments, water control capabilities, moist soil management areas, and wetland restoration efforts are seriously compromising our ability to achieve our wildlife management objectives, adversely affect the function and productivity of our marshes, disrupt or change cultural activities, significantly harm economic benefits, and have long-lasting environmental consequences as previously noted. Accordingly, we believe that this proposed pilot effort is extremely important to the future welfare of the migratory birds, anadromous fish, and endangered species which the Fish and Wildlife Service has been entrusted to manage for the benefit of the American people.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This concludes my formal statement. I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you, and will be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.
STATEMENT OF G. MICHAEL HARAMIS, RESEARCH WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, PATUXENT WILDLIFE RESEARCH CENTER, LAUREL, MARYLAND
The purpose of this testimony is to provide information that is relevant to the conservation of the nation's natural resources, and in particular the wetlands of the Blackwater River Basin and adjacent rivers and specifically those wetlands now part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Dorchester County, Maryland. I have been familiar with these wetlands and the marsh loss issue since arriving in Maryland in 1976 when I started my employment as a Research Wildlife Biologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, now part of the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey. For the past 3 years, I have been directly involved with the problem of marsh loss in two capacities: first, as a research scientist conducting a cooperative study with the State of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to investigate the role of exotic nutria (Myocastor coypus) in the loss of emergent marsh vegetation, and secondly, as a member of a multi-agency task force, including Federal, state, local, and private organizations, to develop a pilot nutria control proposal for Maryland. In reference to these activities, I offer the following comments.
NUTRIA: A BRIEF HISTORY
As brief background, the South American nutria became a subject of attention in the fur industry back in the early 1930s when their large size and high reproductive potential held promise for fur farming businesses in North America. Many hopeful investors started small captive colonies in many locations in the United States, Canada, and many European countries. Many of these farms, however, did not succeed and the animals either escaped or were released to the wild. In some locations feral animals died when released into unsuitable habitat or exposed to severe winter weather. However, nutria populations did develop and persist in many areas. A survey conducted in 1983 found viable populations in 15 states and one Province of Canada; a 1994 survey found nutria in 22 states. Our multi-agency task force is currently conducting a new survey to update this information.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In Louisiana and Maryland marshes, escaped nutria found a suitable natural environment, both a rich food base and favorable climate, and large populations developed as a consequence. Maryland's population is relatively small in comparison to Louisiana where the annual harvest was about 1 million pelts annually in the mid-1980s.
With few natural predators and a decline in fur demand, nutria populations have at times experienced severe overpopulation. These periods of overpopulation have brought severe damage to marshes through the animal's intense feeding on emergent plants. Over time, resource managers recognized that these populations could not be controlled or managed by traditional harvest methods because of (1) lack of harvest incentive (inferior fur quality, declining fur markets) and (2) the animal's own high survival (lack of predators) and remarkable productivity. Nutria may reproduce throughout the year depending on food availability and climate; they may produce 3 litters per year and average 5 young per litter.
Nutria also are not popular with trappers: in comparison to the native muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) they are too large to carry, hard to skin and only a portion of the fur is of value. Average-sized nutria are 8-18 pounds (4-8 kilograms) or 5-10 times the size of muskrats. Where the larger, more aggressive nutria has become abundant, the muskrat has declined through competitive displacement. Nutria are semi-aquatic surface feeding herbivores that can be extremely destructive to marsh vegetation. Their beaver-sized incisors and powerful forefeet allow them to forage directly on the marsh root mat, leaving the marsh pitted with holes and deep swim canals. No other marsh herbivore as large and destructive to wetland vegetation as nutria has ever existed in the Blackwater Basin during the entire development of these marsh ecosystems in the post-glacial period.
ROLE IN MARSH LOSS
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Olney three-square bulrush (Scirpus americanus) is the food plant of choice for nutria. Results of a recent study on the refuge found a loss of 3,500 acres of mostly Olney marsh to open water since 1938; 53 percent of remaining marsh was considered in unhealthy condition and likely to be lost in the near future. Why is this marsh disappearing and what role do nutria play in this event and in the continuing process of marsh loss?
It is my view that while other factors may also be contributing to marsh loss, nutria are the primary force that has accelerated the rate of marsh loss in this basin by attacking the very structure that holds the marsh together, the vegetative root mat. The root mat has been especially critical because much of the marsh in the Blackwater Basin is a type of floating marsh above a layer of fluid mud. Once the nutria chew through the mat and expose the mud to erosional forces of tidal current and wave action, the marsh surface sinks and the vegetation is lost to inundation. The particular vulnerability of the interior marsh to nutria damage is likely the reason why marsh loss did not occur near the mouth of the Blackwater River (source of rising water), but in the interior basin many miles up-river where this delicate Olney marsh was under attack by foraging nutria.
It is likely that stress from marsh inundation reduces plant vigor by inhibiting plant germination, growth, ability to recolonize denuded areas, or recovery from nutria grazing. Clearly, plants that are stressed from too much water from flooding are unable to recover from damage by nutria. It is impossible to accurately reconstruct past events and there are many other subtle factors continuing to operate that affect the health of the marsh. Nonetheless, it is my opinion that nutria foraging activity likely initiated and certainly greatly accelerated the rate of marsh loss in the Blackwater Basin. I conclude that an overabundance of nutria is the major factor in the observed rapid conversion of emergent marsh to open water along the Blackwater River.
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THE NUTRIA EXCLOSURE STUDY
In 1995 I became directly involved with the marsh loss issue when I began a cooperative study with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to investigate the role of nutria in the loss of emergent marsh on the Refuge. My study proposed using fenced enclosures to eliminate nutria herbivory and measure the subsequent vegetative response. Specifically, this experimental approach would determine whether in the absence of nutria the marsh vegetation could stabilize and recover from nutria damage. Conducting this enclosure study was the first of several recommendations made by the British researcher Dr. L.M. Gosling, who assessed Maryland's nutria/marsh loss issue at the request of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 1994. Dr. Gosling had successfully removed nutria from a marsh in England in a 10-year trapping campaign that is well documented (see Literature Cited at the end of this report).
In my study, large 100 x 100 ft plots were selected to maintain the ecological integrity of fenced plots and minimize physical effects of enclosure. The size of these enclosures, requiring over 1.4 miles of fencing, make this one of the largest enclosure studies of its kind. Nineteen randomly selected control plots and 19 paired plots (adjacent to fenced enclosures) were also included in the study to test for possible differences in nutria densities. I wanted to be reassured that densities at random control and random treatment (fenced sites) were similar. This is important because if by chance densities were different at the fenced and unfenced sites, it could bias the results of the study. Vegetative coverage was measured through spring and fall measurements of 346 fixed subplots and helicopter photography of whole plots.
Preliminary results following one growing season indicate that the vegetative response is as predicted, i.e. moderate expansion of vegetation within enclosures, and a measured reduction outside. Although the magnitude of this response within enclosures was not great, it is positive evidence that (1) nutria activity is contributing to marsh loss and (2) the marsh is showing some capability of recovering in the absence of nutria foraging activity. However, vegetative recovery is likely limited because of elevation differences between the vegetative surface and the adjacent denuded marsh surface. It is clear that the cumulative sediment transport processes are negative on the marsh surface (erosional) and without the vegetation to stabilize the marsh, the mostly organic debris torn up by nutria simply washes away.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The sensitivity of the marsh surface to erosion is significant because it indicates that in the absence of nutria, only partial recovery of vegetation can be expected unless restoration is done to fill in eroded areas or otherwise augment the elevation of the marsh surface to a level conducive to vegetative growth.
Damage from nutria occurs along a gradient from light to heavy. Plots that have lost more than 70 percent of vegetation, and exhibit only scattered tufts of remaining vegetation are essentially unrestorable without invasive procedures. Sites where damage has been light and little erosion has occurred, seem to have a good chance of recovery if protected from nutria. Unfortunately a large percentage of the marsh exhibits cumulative damage from nutria over the past several decades and seems to have little restoration potential because the damage has progressed too far. As a matter of fact, two of my plots completely eroded away in the early phase of the study and had to be relocated; 3 other plots are now on the edge of large areas completely denuded of vegetation. A number of growing seasons is required before making more definitive statements about recovery potential. I note that in the current year I have also included in my study an investigation of the effects of elevation change on plant recolonization. This study is scheduled to continue through 1999.
I have been a member of the nutria eradication proposal task force since its inception and wish to make some comments about the pilot control initiative. First, much of the plan was originally derived from recommendations from Dr. Gosling, who forwarded a very well formulated eradication plan to the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Dr. Gosling is the only person who has experience with a large-scale, long-term nutria eradication program, and I might add, a successful one. Dr. Gosling's success is remarkable because he was constrained to use live traps for capturing nutria in Great Britain, and not the more effective traps available in the United States. Dr. Gosling is a research scientist and conducted his experiment in eradication in a systematic and well documented way. It is a consensus of our task force that our plan must also incorporate the research needed to document the process and especially the population effects related to removal of nutria. This is essential if the work is to be properly evaluated and documented. Also, the research component is essential to fill in information gaps in our knowledge, for instance, in determining the most effective trapping procedures or the best marsh restoration methods.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I wish to mention the diverse partnership involved with this initiative. At last count at least 17 different partners, including several from the private sector, are actively involved in the proposal's design and in contributing time, equipment, facilities, and dollars. Their commitment helped to create a diverse base of support for the proposal.
Lastly, the task force reached a noteworthy consensus during its deliberations. All members are well aware that although nutria have been a management problem for many years, no program has ever been adopted at a proper scale to address the issue. Thousands of acres of marsh have been lost in Maryland. The task force believes that marsh loss can be mediated by controlling and eventually eliminating nutria from Maryland. This concludes my statement, and I will be pleased to respond to any questions.
Gosling, L.M. 1989. Extinction to order. New Scientist, 4 March 1989:44-49.
Gosling, L.M. 1994. Towards an eradication plan for nutria in Maryland, a report to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. 14 April 1994. 14pp.
Gosling, L.M., and Baker, S.J. 1987. Planning and monitoring an attempt to eradicate coypus from Britain. Symp. Zool. Soc. Lon. 58:99-113.
Gosling, L.M., Baker, S.J., and Clarke, C.N. 1988. An attempt to remove coypus (Myocastor coypus) from a wetland habitat in East Anglia. J. Appl. Ecol. 25:49-62.
STATEMENT OF DR. SARAH J. TAYLOR-ROGERS, PH.D., FOR THE MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, my name is Dr. Sarah J. Taylor-Rogers. I am the Assistant Secretary of Resource Management for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. On behalf of the State of Maryland, I appreciate the opportunity to address this Subcommittee on initiatives relating to control of expanding nutria populations within our State.
Nutria are an invasive, semi-aquatic South American rodent. This non-native species was first introduced into Dorchester County, Maryland in 1943. Nutria are a foreign addition to Maryland's wetland ecosystems, therefore no inherent biofeedback mechanisms exist to naturally control their populations. Consequently, succeeding population increases and range expansion has now resulted in established populations in at least 8 counties. Population estimates on the 10,000 acres of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge have grown from less than 150 animals in 1968 to between 35,000 to 50,000 currently.
Loss or degradation of Maryland's coastal marshes has reached alarming proportions. It is estimated that up to 65 percent of our wetlands have been lost since the 1700's. Nutria feeding behavior damages or destroys the root mat that cements the marsh together. When this fibrous network is compromised, emergent marsh is quickly reduced to unconsolidated mudflats. These areas in turn are highly susceptible to erosional processes and are eventually converted to open water. While nutria are not the sole reason for marsh loss, they have been implicated as the catalyst that has greatly accelerated losses during the last decade. Annual loss rates at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge are now approximately 5 percent of total vegetated acreage.
Although this project focuses primarily on Blackwater NWR, the 10,000 acres of the refuge only represents a small portion of the nutria's occupied range in Maryland. Maryland's problems encompasses a much larger scale and scope than those described in this proposal. However, the accompanying scientific investigations are the first logical step in addressing our problems.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Current efforts have evolved to the inclusive, systematic strategies now presented to Congress (see attached proposal). A brief synopsis of the labors that led to this hearing is as follows:
CHRONOLOGY OF APPROACH
During the mid-1980's Maryland's non-native nutria population exhibited seemingly exponential growth rates. Likewise, resident population densities, occupied range and accompanying marshland degradation paralleled these increases. This prompted the Maryland Department Of Natural Resources (DNR) to initiate the CUE (catch per unit effort) project in 1989 to assess nutria population characteristics. The study generally supported qualitative field assessments of rapidly increasing populations.
DNR formed the first multi-agency nutria task force. The group was charged with the overwhelming responsibility of development or a workable approach to control of non-native nutria populations. Efforts of the task force resulted in completion of the first draft eradication plan. The concept of nutria eradication also received legislative support in 1993 with the passage of Senate Bill 27. This legislation mandated that 50 percent of the proceeds from the sale of State duck stamps be designated for nutria control.
During preparation of the 1993 plan, literature searches revealed that successful nutria eradication efforts had been completed in East Anglia, Great Britain. Under the direction of Dr. Morris Gosling, the Coypu (nutria) Research Laboratory, and the Coypu Control Organization reversed decades of futile efforts and eradicated the entire resident nutria population during the 1980's. This victorious endeavor resulted from the marriage of systematic applied research and field control activities (see attached ''Extinction to Order,'' M. Gosling). These successes led DNR to solicit critical review of our initial plan from Dr. Gosling.
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Communications with Dr. Gosling highlighted the complexities of a large scale eradication program. Upon realization of the enormity of the task before us, DNR entered into a contractual agreement with Dr. Gosling to provide technical expertise in development of a revised eradication plan.
Dr. Gosling completed field assessments of Maryland's nutria population and occupied range, and submitted his recommendations to DNR. He felt that eradication in Maryland was an achievable goal, however basic natural history and control strategy information had to be obtained prior to the implementation of control efforts.
Dr. Goslings expertise and comments were then synthesized with the initial eradication plan. Project descriptions were developed, and resulted in production of the initial working concepts of our current proposal entitled ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland.'' All of our ensuing efforts have closely paralleled the recommendations offered by Dr. Gosling.
Quantifiable data documenting the deleterious consequences of established nutria populations is critical to enlisting public understanding and support. Accordingly, in 1995 DNR entered a joint research endeavor with the U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center designed to assess the impacts of nutria grazing on marshland vegetative communities. This study entitled ''The Effect of Nutria (Myocaster coypus) on Marsh Loss in the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland: An Exclosure Study'' has proven to be the largest investigation of it's kind ever initiated in a marshland ecosystem. Mike Haramis, the project's principle investigator will provide accompanying testimony on preliminary findings of this study.
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The DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have continually solicited critical input of the draft eradication plan. These requests led to convening of a ''Nutria Control Summit'' meeting in 1997. Representatives of various agencies, organizations, and disciplines contributed valuable insights and perspectives to augment the existing plan.
As a result of this meeting, 17 governmental agencies and private organizations formed partnerships and appointed two complimentary task groups. The first was an expanded technical committee which was charged with refinement the draft plan's experimental design, and development of the three year pilot project. The second committee was charged with development of a public education campaign to cultivate support for the program.
Both of these committees have worked in unison to produce the proposal with which you are now presented. The attached document entitled ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland'' details the specific approaches necessary to ultimately address control of nutria populations.
History has demonstrated that normal commercial harvest of nutria is not adequate to substantially reduce population levels. Prolific reproductive rates and adaptability in response to high mortality rates have allowed nutria populations to expand through time. Detailed records kept on a 7,000 acre landholding adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge document this phenomena. Nutria population densities and associated ecological damage on this parcel continue to increase in spite of sustained annual harvests of approximately 25 percent to 35 percent of the total population.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As demonstrated by Dr. Gosling, the key to successfully eradicating nutria is to modify existing harvest equipment and strategies. The information necessary to capitalize on critical behavioral traits and characteristics can only be obtained through the systematic, and quantitative investigations included in the attached proposal. Accurate home range, movement, reproductive and control equipment evaluation data is essential to the development of efficient harvest strategies.
Key components of the proposal and brief descriptions are as follows:
1. Impacts of nutria on marsh ecosystems (enclosure study).
This cooperative research endeavor will quantitatively document the impacts on plant species composition and densities in marshland vegetative communities. This data will be employed by public education personnel to garner the public support necessary for an eradication project.
2. Nutria natural history characteristics.
(a) Temporal, spatial and gender specific home range characteristics.
A variety of techniques including radio-telemetry, mark recapture, and Forward Looking Infra-red Radar will be utilized by researchers to assess these behavioral manifestations. A basic understanding of when, where, why and how animals occur and travel is necessary for control personnel to develop efficient harvest schemes.
(b) Reproductive characteristics.
Reproductive dynamics including age of sexual maturation and failure, compensatory reproductive rates, litter size, and average number of litters per year are essential to predicting control personnel force size and control intensity levels. Researchers will obtain this information by performing necropsies on animals supplied by the control unit.
3. Pilot Control Project.
(a) Develop and evaluate control equipment and strategies.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCEradication based harvest schemes will require evaluation and modification of existing control equipment, as well as development of new and innovative apparatus. Likewise, current sustained yield harvest strategies will require systematic alterations. Information supplied by project researchers will enable control personnel to investigate and modify all of these parameters.
(b) Age and gender specific harvest characteristics.
When population densities are reduced to a critical level, harvest efficiency may dictate targeting specific age classes or gender for maximum reduction values. Research and control personnel will work cooperatively to obtain this mutually beneficial information.
4. Marsh restoration.
(a) Investigate recuperative capabilities of degraded marshland ecosystems.
Researchers will determine the gradient of recovery for untreated marsh vegetative communities when nutria are removed.
(b) Investigate mechanical techniques for restoration of severely degraded marshland ecosystems.
Researchers will evaluate if changing elevational levels of degraded marsh through the application of sediments will facilitate recovery of severely degraded areas. The treatments will be applied in areas with and without nutria present.
5. Public education and support.
Information supplied by both research and control personnel will be crafted by education specialist into a media campaign that conveys the urgency and inherent value of the eradication project to the general public.
This body of work is the culmination of over nine years of labor by recognized experts in the biological science. It represents the best available, systematic and scientifically based approach to resolution of an extremely urgent problem. Thank you for your consideration.
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STATEMENT OF DR. EDWARD C. SOUTIERE, PRESIDENT AND MANAGER, TUDOR FARMS INC.
Tudor Farms is a privately-owned wildlife management area and hunting preserve located on the Transquaking and Chicamacomico River watersheds upstream of the Blackwater River and Fishing Bay marsh complexes. I manage the Farms' 5,500 acres for a variety of wildlife, both upland and wetland species, but managing for waterfowl is our priority. Our 2,400 acres of tidal marsh and 200 acres of man-made freshwater wetlands are important habitat to thousands of ducks, geese and shorebirds. All the tidal marsh upstream and immediately downstream of Tudor Farms is privately owned, and all of this marsh land is either owned by waterfowl hunt clubs, leased to waterfowl hunters by the owners, or hunted on by the owners themselves. Today this Committee is addressing the loss of valuable wetlands at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge caused, in part, by the nutria. I welcome this opportunity to remind the Committee that the private owners of wetlands in Dorchester County, Maryland are suffering the same losses and damage, and that we too are interested in finding a solution.
In the nine years that I have managed Tudor Farms, 500 acres of vegetated tidal marsh has converted to mudflats and open water. Marsh loss is greatest, averaging 30 percent to 40 percent, in the broad marsh expanses adjacent to the Transquaking and Chicamacomico Rivers, and less in the narrow headwater marshes of the creeks feeding into the rivers. Early on, my staff and I recognized that nutria were damaging the marsh with their feeding and traveling activities. In addition, nutria feed in our crop fields and landscape plantings, and dig and burrow in our water-control dikes and structures, causing thousands of dollars of damage annually.
Hoping to control, if not reduce, the population of nutria on Tudor Farms, I opened the Farms to trapping by several local fur-trappers in 1992. These trappers were of course most interested in trapping muskrat, raccoon and fox for which there is a fur-market. There is no market for the fur of nutria in Maryland so I gave the trappers a cash incentive of $1.25 for each nutria killed. In 1995, Tudor Farms awarded a research grant to the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES) to study the nutria on Tudor Farms and to determine what if any effect the trapping was having on the nutria population. The graduate student, Lara Ras, who conducted the research will complete her program of study at UMES this fall.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At this time, I can tell you that the number of nutria trapped or shot each trapping season has remained relatively stable at about 5,000, ranging from 4,000 to 5,000. The estimates of nutria numbers on Tudor Farms have also remained stable at 17,000 to 24,000, or 7 to 10 nutria per acre of marsh. This means that, at best, we have succeeded in removing only 25 percent of the population each year. For nutria, which reach sexual maturity at 6 months of age and can have two or three litters of 4 to 5 young per year, this is no control at all.
I conclude that traditional trapping during the 4 month fur-bearer season in Maryland cannot alone control nutria numbers. Furthermore, the removal of 25 percent of a nutria population each year is insufficient to arrest the loss of vegetated marshland.
Eradication, a much more difficult objective than control, is a desirable goal for Maryland if we are to have any hope of retaining our valuable tidal marshes. But eradication will require the dedicated effort of a professional staff working full-time and year around for several years, and some help from Mother Nature, to achieve. Public support of the eradication effort will be essential for, as Dr. L. M. Gosling noted during his 1994 seminar at Tudor Farms on the subject of the United Kingdom nutria eradication program, in an eradication program ''the only nutria you are paying for is the last one.''
Tudor Farms will support the pilot project, ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland.'' We have a vested interest in maintaining a healthy wetland system in the Chesapeake Bay. I believe our neighbors share our interest. I urge this Committee to support the funding request for the proposed pilot project. We clearly need to move quickly to find and develop techniques to save and restore our fast vanishing marshlands.
STATEMENT OF RICHARD B. PIERCE, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS. DUCKS UNLIMITED, INC.'S GREAT LAKES/ATLANTIC REGIONAL OFFICE
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Richard Pierce, I am the Director of Operations for Ducks Unlimited's Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office. My staff and I are responsible for delivering Ducks Unlimited's conservation programs along the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Ducks Unlimited is the largest non-government waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization in the world, having more than a million supporters. Since its founding in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has raised more than $1 billion to conserve over 8 million acres of critical wildlife habitat in all 50 states, each Canadian province, and in key areas in Mexico.
Since 1987, Ducks Unlimited has worked with state, Federal and private conservation partners to restore, protect, and enhance over 40,000 acres of wetlands and associated habitat within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In May of 1997, we announced our Chesapeake Bay Initiative, a joint partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other partners to restore wildlife habitat on an integrated, landscape approach, and improve water quality by reducing sediment and nutrient loading within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This Initiative is an ambitious effort to restore over 90,000 acres of wildlife habitat and raise over 20 million dollars to support our conservation efforts, and the efforts of our state and Federal partners. Through this Initiative we have been working with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior to implement conservation programs, including the Partners for Wildlife Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Wetland Reserve Program, and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, to improve wildlife habitat and water quality across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The tidal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay provide habitat for over 1 million wintering waterfowl, which accounts for approximately 35 percent of all waterfowl wintering in the Atlantic Flyway. Species of continental importance include American Black ducks (Anus rubripes), Canvasback (Aytha valisineria), Lesser and Greater Scaup (Aytha affinis, Aytha marila) and the Atlantic Population of Canada Geese, (Branta canadensis). In addition to waterfowl, the Bay's ecosystem supports over 2,700 species of fish and wildlife.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As you have heard from previous testimony, nutria (Myocastor coypus), an introduced exotic species have caused severe damage to the tidal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay. Due to the dependence of large populations of waterfowl and other wildlife on these affected ecosystems, Ducks Unlimited finds that controlling nutria populations and restoring tidal wetlands is a priority for our Chesapeake Bay Initiative.
Impacts to tidal marshes are a result of several factors including sea level rise, land subsidence, erosion, and nutria. Nutria are large herbivores that feed directly on the vegetation that provides structure to a marsh. Their impacts result in changes in the vegetative composition of an emergent marsh, and even the total loss of the marsh to open water. In either case, the vegetative communities are altered and productive waterfowl and wildlife habitat is lost.
Nutria feeding habits create highly erosive conditions and leave the marsh pitted with holes and swim channels, and often void of vegetation. The primary food source for nutria is three square bulrush, (Scirpus onleyi). Three square bulrush is also a valuable food resource for wintering waterfowl. The loss of this vegetation component not only effects wintering waterfowl populations, but also leads to a reduction in invertebrate populations, which migrating waterfowl readily depend on. Additionally, increased rates of erosion in concert with rising sea levels increase the hydroperiod, or flooding regime, of the marsh, which limits the ability of three square bulrush and other plants to revegetate a site. The swim channels through the marsh also permit the tidal inundation of many isolated, interior ponds that support submerged aquatic vegetation. The increase in salinity and turbidity limits the growing conditions for submerged aquatic vegetation, and has reduced many interior ponds to barren mud flats. Submerged aquatic vegetation is an important food source for migrating and wintering waterfowl, especially American Black ducks, a species of priority concern in the Atlantic Flyway.
The restoration of tidal wetlands or marshes is an important component of our Chesapeake Bay Initiative. Tidal wetland systems are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, supporting thousands of aquatic and terrestrial species, including many that are threatened and endangered. Maryland has lost over 73 percent of its original wetlands, making the remaining wetlands vital to maintaining the health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the over 2 million waterfowl that migrate through or winter in the Chesapeake Bay each year. Unfortunately, large expanses of Maryland's remaining marshes have been degraded by nutria. Therefore, Ducks Unlimited supports this plan and its goal of controlling nutria populations and restoring marsh habitat. We also support the plan's efforts to study alternative restoration techniques in order to minimize cost and increase effectiveness once restoration efforts begin. Controlling nutria is just one step in slowing the rate of marsh loss in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Restoration projects should also be implemented as soon as possible in order to study restoration techniques and to establish demonstration projects to educate the public on the importance of the restoration of coastal marshes.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for your time and attention.
STATEMENT OF JIM RAPP, DIRECTOR, SALISBURY ZOOLOGICAL PARK
Mr. Chairman, Congressman Gilchrest, and Members of the Committee:
My name is Jim Rapp. I am the Director of the Salisbury Zoological Park in Salisbury, Maryland. I have worked for the Salisbury Zoo for ten years serving in a number of capacities, including the Zoo's Education Director.
The Salisbury Zoo is a twelve-acre facility that displays over 100 different species, over 350 specimens, and specializes in exhibiting North and South American species. The Zoo has been a Member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) since 1972, and has an annual attendance of 250,000 visitors, including 15,000 local school children. The Zoo is also involved in a number of education programs with a sister zoo in Belize and a nature reserve in Mexico.
The Salisbury Zoo appreciates the opportunity to testify before the Committee on the pilot program proposal entitled ''Marsh Restoration: Nutria Control in Maryland.'' The Zoo supports the proposal and expects to be an integral partner in executing its educational mission.
As I am the last speaker today, my comments will focus on the overall impact of introducing nonindigenous species to our Nation's ecosystems, and the importance of educating the public to prevent further destruction of the Eastern Shore Wetlands.
Species introductions, whether intentional or unintentional, seem to be an inevitable result of human activities. They may result in both economic and ecological problems; it has been estimated that over 90 percent of all such introductions have been harmful in some respect. As U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Clark said, ''Invasive species tend be very adaptive, aggressive, and resilient. Once they are established, we are unlikely to ever completely eradicate them.'' In fact, Mr. Chairman, this past Sunday, the Cable News Network (CNN) aired a new segment from its Earth Matters series called ''Invader Animals'' that illustrated the devastating effects of introduced species on local ecosystems and the high cost associated with controlling or eradicating them.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The United States has been invaded by nonindigenous exotic species since the colonial period. However, in the late 1920s when the United States became home to the sea lamprey and witnessed its reign of terror on lake trout in the Great Lakes, we truly came to realize the destruction these species could cause to local ecosystems and our native species. Since then, it seems our nation has been in a constant state of war to prevent either the spread of established exotic species or the introduction of others. One species in particular, the zebra mussel, illustrates well the economic and ecological dangers of nonindigenous exotic species. The zebra mussel was unintentionally introduced into the Great Lakes ecosystem in the 1980s through the untreated ballast tanks of vessels, and in less than ten years, it has established itself throughout the Great Lakes region, portions of the Mississippi River, the Arkansas River, and Lake Champlain in New York. The zebra mussel has caused millions of dollars in damage to filtration systems throughout these areas, and has smothered populations of native clams, mussels, and crayfish.
In 1990, Congress responded by passing the Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act. The Act created the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force to coordinate Federal and state agencies combating the expanding problems associated with the zebra mussel, as well as other introduced aquatic species. The Task Force is charged with developing and implementing a program to prevent the introduction and dispersal of aquatic nuisance species in U.S. waters, and to monitor, control and study such species.
In addition to the devastation caused by the zebra mussel, other introduced exotic species such as the gypsy moth, pine boring beetle, Phragmites reed, and brown tree snake have inflicted damage on various ecosystems and displaced a number of native species. The brown tree snake is a particularly good example of the effects of exotic species on native wildlife.
The brown tree snake was accidentally introduced to Guam in the late 1940s with a shipment of military equipment. In the absence of natural predators, the snake population spread quickly throughout the island. Animals native to Guam, especially birds, lacked the natural adaptations to protect themselves since snakes had never before existed on the island. The result: there are no more native birds in the wild on Guam, including the once-common Guam rail and Micronesian kingfisher. Although brown tree snakes are nocturnal and are rarely seen by people, they have been known to enter people's homes and farms, killing small pets and farm animals, and even attacking children. Guam's forest is eerily silent.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now Hawaii, home to more endangered plants and birds than any other U.S. state, may be the brown tree snake's next victim. Without the diligence of the Department of Interior and the state of Hawaii and their extensive inspection program at airports and other transport centers, the brown tree snake might already be established on Hawaii, and Hawaiians would eventually hear the same eerie silence experienced by Guam. The cost associated with this inspection program is understandably highin the millionsbut the alternative is the extinction of hundreds of species.
The AZA has also been active in conserving the endangered species of these islands. Through its Species Survival Plan (SSP), AZA coordinates a breeding and recovery plan for the Guam rail involving sixteen institutional members, and a plan for the Micronesian kingfisher involving fourteen institutional members. The goal is to someday return these species back to their native habitats. Although there is a tremendous cost associated with these programs, AZA zoos know their involvement is critical because they are the last hope these species have from becoming extinct.
Biologists are familiar with numerous methods to curb the adverse effects of introduced animals and to preserve native ecosystems and species. Complete elimination of the exotic species is sometimes advocated, but it can be a prohibitively expensive technique. Controlling populations at low levels has also been proposed. Ways to carry out these solutions have ranged from live capture of animals to shooting and poisoning.
As the other speakers today have discussed, the State of Maryland, particularly the Eastem Shore, has a serious nutria problem. It also has a growing problem with the mute swan, another introduced species. Currently, Maryland has a mute swan population of 3,000, the largest concentration of any state. The population of the entire eastern seaboard is 10,000 birds. These birds are very aggressive and have displaced a number of local bird populations, especially the threatened black skimmer. Mr. Chairman, as the Committee is well aware, the wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay are some of the most important wetland areas in the United States, and have received global recognition as ''Wetlands of International Importance'' under the Ramsar Convention Treaty.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, yet over half of this country's original wetlands have already been destroyed, either by development, erosion, subsidence, or nonindigenous exotic species.
Maryland's wetlands are of tremendous importance to the state's residents. They serve as a place for fishing, hunting, trapping, bird-watching, berry and timber harvesting, agriculture and livestock production, and the growing hobby of wildlife viewing and photography. The Zoo has been an active partner in promoting ecotourism on the Eastern Shore, especially bird-watching, through the Delmarva Birding Weekend and the creation of the Delmarva Birding Guide. The Eastern Shore's wetlands are home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish, and insects, and serve as important spawning or nursery sites for many finfish and shellfish. Moreover, these wetlands are vitally important to over one million waterfowl that either winter on the Bay or use it during their migration. Resource managers fear that, without intervention, Maryland's wetlands, which provide significant ecological, cultural, and economic benefits to the state, may completely disappear within the next one or two decades.
While it is important to continue confronting the threats to Eastern Shore wetlands of development, erosion, and agricultural runoff, dealing with the nutria is perhaps an easier task. As you have already heard from the other witnesses, nutria are prolific, highly invasive, face no natural predators to control their numbers, and threaten the native muskrat. Most importantly, these powerful animals forage directly on the vegetative root mat, leaving the marsh pitted with digging sites and deep canals.
Consequently, several Federal, state, and private organizationsmany represented before youhave joined forces to develop a plan for controlling nutria. The goal of the proposal is to develop methods and strategies to eradicate the nutria population, restore marsh habitats, and promote public understanding of the importance of preserving Maryland's wetlands. I believe the Salisbury Zoo is the perfect partner to help execute the latter part of this proposal, because our primary mission is to increase the public's awareness and appreciation of wildlife and its habitat, and to encourage people to become participants in conservation.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The proposed budget to develop a public awareness program is absolutely crucial if the state's residents are to fully understand and thus become active partners in controlling nutria in Maryland. The program will help minimize the controversy that will most likely surround nutria removal activities. It is important that Eastern Shore citizens realize the significance of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge proposal, and understand the potential benefits it can have for Maryland and other states, such as Louisiana. The Salisbury Zoo would be a natural collaborator for the Refuge in disseminating information to the public, and would offer an excellent venue for education programs that target school children. The Zoo sees itself as that bridge, necessary for the program to work, between Federal and state agencies and the public.
This proposed pilot program for eradicating nutria will be extremely beneficial in preventing future species from being added to the Endangered Species Act, especially if the nutria continues its conquest of wetlands habitat. Maryland is fortunate; the current nutria population is still small enough for this program to be successful. We can eradicate the nutria now. However, if we wait much longer, we may only hope to control the nutria's numbers. To use that famous saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, even at the cost of $2.3 million. Weighing the long-term cost of destruction from nutria against the benefits of this pilot program, I believe the answer is clear.
This proposal is a good, practical first step to better understand the scope of the nutria problem in the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and the entire Eastern Shore, and the best way to eradicate this destructive adversary.
Thank you for allowing me to testify in support of the Proposed Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Marsh Restoration Program to Control Nutria.
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