WASHINGTON — A measure to grant funding to try to eradicate the invasive rodents called nutria has passed the U.S. House with the help of a large, stuffed specimen.
California Rep. Josh Harder brought the taxidermied nutria he calls Nellie to the House floor Wednesday ahead of a vote that approved the bill, The Modesto Bee reported.
Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves co-sponsored the legislation with Harder. It would support making $12 million available each year until 2025 to about a dozen states battling the invasion of the rodent, news outlets reported.
"Nearly 4.5 million people live in Louisiana, yet we have an estimated 20 million nutria," Graves said in a statement.
The state recently upped the bounty it pays to hunters who kill nutria, from $5 to $6. The webbed-toed, buck-toothed rodents are sometimes called "swamp rats" because of their naked-looking tails but are more closely related to guinea pigs. They're in between the size of muskrats and beavers and contribute to erosion by burrowing in land and eating marshland plants, including the roots. They eat 25% of their own weight in plants each day, and can kill trees by gnawing away a ring of bark.
Nutria are native to South America and came to the United States in the 20th century, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. They were a source of fur for coats and hats but some escaped and fur farmers released many more when the industry declined.
California allocated $10 million in state money last year to fight its nutria population, according to the Bee. Officials used the money to put together a team of 40 employees tasked with driving down the number of the rodents.