WICOMICO RIVER – On the wall of the nutria eradication team’s drab office at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, there’s a large whiteboard with names and numbers on it. They’re bets for a long-running pool: How many nutria will the team find in the marshes of the Wicomico River?
“The people that guessed 90, 70, 120, they’ve already lost,” says Stephen Kendrot as he drives along a Wicomico County backroad.
It’s an overcast April afternoon with a long-awaited bit of warmth in the air. The nutria project leader is coming back from a site in Quantico, where four of his trappers are roaming the Wicomico River in jon boats. They’ve killed about 120 nutria there so far and found a few more this morning.
The river is the site of the final battle in the long-running quest to eradicate the beaver-like rodents (“nutria” means “otter” in Spanish) that have destroyed thousands of acres of the state’s wetlands over the past 40 years. It has taken longer than expected — news articles profiled the waning fight in 2011 — but finally, the state is almost free of the invasive rodents.