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Invasive Nutria Face Death Sentence in Washington

Aug 11, 2014 04:28 PM EDT

Invasive nutria living in Washington need be afraid this week because the Department of Agriculture has ordered a shoot-on-sight for these rodents, which are taking over the state's Olympia lake.

The state has paid the US Department of Agriculture $5,000 to shoot and kill as many nutria as a two-person crew can find around Olympia, Washington's Capitol Lake. There are about 40 nutria living around the lake, and though they only weight 10 pounds, these pests can displace native animal and plant species, carry diseases as well as damage roads and bridges in the area via burrowing.

King 5 News reports that no such damage has been detected yet, but the Department of Enterprise Services wants to try to reduce the population before the nutria can cause any problems.

"We're nipping this in the bud," said Curt Hart, who's with the department.

The crew will use a pair of .22 caliber rifles with silencers to carry out the death sentence, working at night to eliminate the rodents. Though, some local animal lovers see this action as a little too harsh.

"They could be moved to another location that's a little more rural, where they'll be welcome," suggested Bethany Jones, who's from the Olympia area.

But Hart says that since nutria are an invasive species, state law requires them to be euthanized after they are trapped.

Nutria (Myocastor coypus) are semi-aquatic rodents native to southern parts of South America, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. They were brought to Washington in the 1930s to be used in the fur industry, as well as to control unwanted aquatic vegetation.

Female nutria reproduce very quickly and can birth as many as 13 at a time, so if they are released into the wild they can become a very unwieldy animal.

The reason these herbivores are so damaging to road structures is because when they burrow in the banks of rivers, sloughs and ponds, they cause considerable erosion. Burrows can also weaken roadbeds, stream banks, dams and dikes, which may collapse when the soil is saturated by rain or high water.

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