Unwelcome Interlopers

by Rona Kobell

Northern snakehead, an invasive species in the Chesapeake region, was first discovered spawning in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, in 2002. Photo, Will Parson / Chesapeake Bay Program
Northern snakehead is an invasive species in the Chesapeake region, first discovered spawning in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, in 2002. Photo, Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

No matter how invasive species enter our state and waterways, they all have one thing in common: it’s hard to get them out.

That’s why the story of how the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Department of Agriculture eradicated nutria is so inspiring. The agencies, along with more than a dozen partners, managed to rid Maryland’s Eastern Shore of the buck-toothed aquatic rodent that was munching its way through precious marsh habitat. It took years, cost millions of dollars, and encompassed thousands of acres of farms and wildlife habitat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But Maryland’s nutria eradication efforts are among the few in the country where a region appears to have rid itself of a nuisance and thus slowed the destruction of vital habitat. It was so successful that Virginia wants not only to emulate the program but also to use the same staff and equipment to handle its own nutria problem.

In this issue, Eastern Shore historian Phillip Hesser helps tell the story of how the nutria arrived on the Shore, and how scientists and trappers got rid of them. Also in this issue, we examine how county and state officials quickly acted to rid a quarry of highly destructive quagga and zebra mussels. We’ll introduce you to the Mid-Atlantic Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species, a volunteer program that shares information about unwanted species’ movement within the region to help stop problems before they begin. Finally, you’ll meet Jackie Takacs, one of our longest-serving Extension specialists, who has spent her career working on watershed issues throughout the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland.

It’s by no means the last word on aquatic invasive species. We chose these stories to examine some solutions on what is a growing and complex problem.

We hope you enjoy the stories and photos. If you have thoughts about nutria, invasive plants or animals, or other Chesapeake Bay topics, feel free to drop us a note.

—kobell@mdsg.umd.edu

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