By Chris Pulaski, National Wildlife Federation
On December 3, a group of Lafourche Parish high school students staged the first ever nutria rodeo in Golden Meadow, La. Sassafras Louisiana is a coastal advocacy non-profit organization founded by Lafourche-area teens after the BP oil disaster. The rodeo may be considered folly by some, but it addresses the serious threat that invasive species have on coastal marshes and estuary habitat. Nutria, Asian carp and feral swine impact native species and destroy plant material, and their numbers have been steadily increasing despite state and local efforts. Coyotes—also invasive to Louisiana—prowl local communities, reportedly killing pets and livestock.
Rodeo hunters collected almost 20 nutria, eight hogs and two coyotes during the event. No Asian carp were entered. First, second and third-place awards were given in each animal category for heaviest entry submitted, and the largest nutria tipped the scales at 20 pounds. Other awards included the nutria with the brightest orange teeth. Judges compared the teeth to a strip of orange paint samples.
Although the overall numbers were low, the event organizers were very pleased with the turnout and raised close to $10,000 for their organization. Even more pleasing to Sassafras members was that the event increased awareness of the issue of invasive species on area marshes. The nutria and hogs captured during the event were donated to local food shelters, and Sassafras is partnering with Righteous Fur to use the nutria pelts at future events.
Nutria were first introduced to Louisiana in the 1930s and since that time, the South American swamp rodent has driven local species, such as muskrat, out of the area and damaged thousands of acres of already-threatened marshes.