USDA Put Nutria Hunting Dogs to Work in Blackwater - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

USDA Put Nutria Hunting Dogs to Work in Blackwater

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One of the nutria hunting canines (Photo: WBOC) One of the nutria hunting canines (Photo: WBOC)

CAMBRIDGE, Md.-  In Dorchester County, nutria are an invasive species.  The rodents were brought here from South America for use in the fur trade in the 1940s.  Some escaped or were released from farms, and became an invasive species around the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.  An ongoing project to eradicate the nutria got some new help Wednesday.

The Nutria Eradication Project has been ongoing since 2002 and has been extremely successful.  With nutria becoming so scarce, the USDA is now using man's best friend to find what few remain.

They aren't very nice looking animals, nutria.  Their pelts, once worth good money, are now worthless.  But the damage these rodents do to the marsh is a big problem.

"So you're actually losing marsh, you're losing area where some of our other species like our crabs, our shellfish, that's where they live.  That is where their nursery is at, so it's very critical area," said Margaret Pepper, assistant project leader.

To find what few nutria remain is a job for the dogs.  Wednesday, three dogs and their trainers graduated to officially become nutria hunters.

"When we go out there, they are going to be finding stuff that we can't see.  And if it's out there, they can find it," said Canine Handler Lisa Buhr.

The last trace of nutria was found near the Wicomico River in May, by one of these dogs.  But the detection doesn't rest solely on the dog.

"The dog has to pick up the odor, but it's our job to see that the dog is picking up odor.  If we don't see it and follow up on your dog, they will leave it, especially if they are new.  so we are working together on this as a team," said Buhr.

"We're kind of in the later stages where we are monitoring.  We're not finding nutria, and that's a good thing.  We're at the tail end," said Pepper.

And so, the group that's actively trying to put themselves out of a job, appear to be close to accomplishing their goal.

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