Is marsh destruction by nutria, feral hogs being addressed?

Despite a $6 bounty on nutria, the marsh critters continue to do plenty of damage to Louisiana’s coastline.

Over the past 10 years, the damage from nutria and feral hogs has been on the rise in southeast Louisiana. Landowners who have experienced marsh loss associated with these invasive species are facing decreasing property value, loss of hunting lands, and native species, such as deer, shrinking in population density in the region. There is a set program in place to address nutria by incentivizing their harvest; there is no parallel program for pigs.

Managing nutria and feral hog populations are exceptionally important for the longevity of Louisiana’s coastline. Last season, an estimated 14,600 acres were damaged by nutria. Feral hogs caused roughly $76 million in agricultural loss according to the LSU AgCenter.

Nutria problem, solution

Nutria were introduced to coastal Louisiana during the 1930s as a way to increase the fur trade. However, the decline of trapping activities in the late 1980s resulted in a population boom the next decade of the semi-aquatic rodents.

As a response, Louisiana’s coastal nutria program introduced a bounty on the rodents in 2002.

The program was slowly working until interest in hunting nutria among Louisianans began to decrease in recent years.

Last year, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries raised the nutria bounty from $5 to $6 after low nutria harvest reporting the previous three years. The increase was proposed to renew interest in harvesting nutria among program applicants. Whereas the increase does not seem like it would make a difference in harvest size, nutria hunters who annually bag thousands of these yellow-toothed rodents will have a visible increase in their earnings.

One benefactor of the bounty increase is Walter Heathcock, a landowner and Venice inshore fishing guide. He has been participating in the nutria program since its conception. For Heathcock, it has been a great source of additional income during the colder months. It is also a way he can combat coastal erosion and ensure the land he has will be intact for the next generation. His daughter, Irelyn, is also an active participant in the nutria program.

Feral hog and questions

Feral hogs are a problem throughout Louisiana and, more recently, southeast Louisiana. The damage one hog causes is more than 20 times the damage one nutria causes. Canals that used to have lush vegetation borders have been reduced to mud flats eroding away at an increased rate.

Not only do feral hogs corrode Louisiana’s coastline and marshes, they compete with native wildlife for resources.

A wild hog does 20 times the damage as a nutria, but Louisiana doesn’t have a program in place to curtail the population.

According to LDWF, statisticians have concluded that in order to ensure the population does not continue to grow, 70% to 75% of the current population would need to be harvested. How should that be efficiently accomplished?

Louisiana allows recreational hunting and trapping by private landowners, and night-time shooting of hogs. A potential method being researched is the use of a toxicant called sodium nitrite, which is non-toxic to humans but highly toxic to pigs. It is an inexpensive solution to what is turning into an expensive problem.

According to the LSU AgCenter, feral hogs cause roughly $76 million in agricultural loss. However, several landowners, including Heathcock, strongly oppose the use of the toxicants. Some fear that it may have adverse effects on native wildlife populations.

There is not a bounty program that has been initiated for feral hogs like there has been for nutria.

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