Summer 2018 California Project WET Gazette
Volume XXlll, Issue IIl
Rodents of Unusual Size
It is hard to believe it has been over 30 years since the release of a movie that became part of the “linguistic code talk” of the time period, but some of us have been dating ourselves by firing off lines like “No more rhyming, I mean it!” and getting looks of confusion rather than the expected reply of “Anybody want a peanut?” For those unfamiliar, “The Princess Bride” was a modern, fractured fairy tale about the love of a princess and a peasant boy, within a tale about the relationship between a grandfather and his grandson–embedded in a pretty cheesy, yet endearing adventure movie with pirates, a big-hearted giant, a murderous prince and a princess named Buttercup. However, the image that first flashes into my mind when the movie is mentioned are the ROUS – Rodents of Unusual Size - of the mythical Fire Swamp–and the same image has been popping into mind with the recent flurry of articles about the discovery of nutria in California.
– Westley aka The Dread Pirate Roberts, “The Princess Bride”
And so thought most folks involved with or aware of aquatic life in California, until several beagle – size rodents were discovered in western Merced County last year–65 have been found since in an area of the San Joaquin Valley stretching from Fresno County to near the foothill reservoirs of Don Pedro and New Melones and north to the edge of the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. It is unusual for the Gazette to return to a topic within a year, but the return of the rodent in question, the 30th anniversary celebrations of “The Princess Bride” and California Invasive Species Action Week at the start of June is too tempting of a convergence to pass up!
Nutria are the rodents in question. While one source seemed to take umbrage that some people refer to nutria as “swamp rats,” the same source concurs with other sources that nutria clearly have the single pair of continuously growing upper and lower jaw incisors–very prominent orange ones that range in shade from yellowish to red–that define them as members of the taxonomic order Rodentia. Add to this other physical characteristic of nutria that are captured in the two ancient Greek words that are the derivation of their genus–“mus” meaning “rat or mouse” and “kastor” meaning “beaver”–Myocaster. Myocaster basically translates to “beaver rat.” It is an apt description for this very beaver-looking creature except for those orange teeth, rat-like tail rather than the beaver’s tell-tale flat paddle, white rather than black whiskers and are actually more closely related to the capybara (a true ROUS) and the porcupine.
– Miracle Max, “The Princess Bride”
Nutria are native to the fresh and brackish wetland habitats of South America, where they eat aquatic vegetation including plant roots and rhizomes that they dig out with their exceedingly efficient forelegs. But it was their fur that attracted the interest of humans, and ironically the evidence indicates nutria were first introduced to the United States for the purpose of fur production in 1899–in Lake Elizabeth, California. Nutria were imported thereafter to develop fur farms in other states through the 1930s, but when farms began to fail as fur prices fell in late 1940s many nutria were released or escaped into surrounding wetlands. Though nutria were present in the San Joaquin Valley during this time period, it is believed they were eradicated from California by the 1970s–until their reappearance last year.
“You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia’ – but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!’
– Vizzini, “The Princess Bride”
One could also add: “Never release a ravenous, reproductively capable aquatic species into a similar environment where no natural enemies exist!” Though nutria can look quite cute and not as large as the rubbery, human-sized ROUS of the mythical Fire Swamp, they are far more terrifying in their capability to destroy wetland ecosystems. Nutria can weigh around 20 lbs. and consume up to 25% of their weight per day – and destroy up to 10 times that much in the process of getting what they need. While their native diet includes all manner of wetland vegetation, this “generalist” approach to feeding extends to crops that include rice, beets, melons, alfalfa, wheat, barley and all manner of vegetables.
Their voracious search for food opens channels in or eliminates wetland vegetation that provide shelter and nurseries for young fish and crabs; these are important food sources for native muskrat, beaver and migratory birds and alter the flow of water in and around levees, including the potential for the flow of saline waters from San Francisco Bay deeper into the Delta.
In addition to wreaking havoc on ecosystems, the digging action of nutria have wreaked havoc on levees and canals, undercut roads from Louisiana to the Chesapeake Bay and on our neighbors to the north, Washington and Oregon. Needless to say, the potential damage an established nutria population can wreak has members of all water user groups listed in the Project WET activity ‘8-4-1, One For All’ (p: 299) on edge – agriculture, transportation, municipal, earth systems, fish and wildlife, business and industry, energy and recreation. Think how the actions of nutria described above would affect specific users in each category.
Introduced species do not automatically translate to “invasive species.” One characteristic that tends to define a species as invasive is the ability to reproduce–and the prowess of the nutria in this area launches them into the realm as one of the most terrifying of invasive species. Nutria reach sexual maturity within 4 to 6 months of birth and give birth to a litter of from four to 13 young. Sources indicate young nutria can survive without their mothers within five days of birth but tend to stick with her if possible for up to eight weeks–before dispersing up to 50 miles in all directions within preferred habitat. Even more stunning is that female nutria are able to breed again within 48 hours of giving birth, can breed year-round and give birth to more than 200 offspring per year. To put the potential into perspective, several sources noted 20 nutria were introduced into Louisiana in 1938–20 years later, the nutria population of Louisiana exceeded 20 million!
– Vizzini, ‘The Princess Bride’
California is going all out to stop and hopefully eradicate this nutria outbreak and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking assistance from the public. CDFW had launched an aggressive trapping program and is asking the public to report nutria sightings via a phone hotline-(866) 440-9530–or by email. If you are a landowner in or near the area nutria have been sighted, you can file a request and temporary permission form with CDFW to survey your property for nutria and eliminate any that are found. Education is also playing a very important role in not only helping fellow citizens understand the urgency, but also in helping correctly identify nutria-nutria means otter in a large part of the world and they can easily be confused with our native otters, beaver and muskrats.
Students and schools could help with this awareness and identification effort through art or by joining events focused on nutria education efforts during California Invasive Species Action Week. Teachers still in session can combat some of the influence of “summeritis” by engaging students in the Project WET activity ‘Invaders’ (p: 263). The Project WET Foundation released a realigned version of ‘Invaders’ activity to NGSS and Common Core version of the activity in March that all Guide 2.0 educators can download for free from the ‘Invaders’ Portal page. Students learn about the math associated with native and invasive species relationships by engaging in whole body simulations. The resulting simulation data compares competition between native species, the “invasion curve” developing from release of an invasive species into a new environment and a look at methods used to control or eradicate different aquatic invasive species.
Of course, there is another way to get involved in eliminating nutria. Louisiana has been dealing with nutria for decades and some of their best chefs have developed some incredible recipes that could form the basis of a Nutria Cook-off” to kick off your summer!
“I’d rather eat lint!”
- Miracle Max, “The Princess Bride”
I hope this article provides some better understanding of all the concern regarding this latest addition to the California invasive species list, ideas on how those interested or living in the area can participate in the nutria effort and spark ideas for those seeking last-minute, end-of-the-year ideas. You’ll find a full list of summer-into-fall Project WET workshops in the “Professional Development Opportunities” listed in this Gazette. Please visit the “Websites of Interest” for links to more information on nutria–including those recipes! For those just ready for a break, check out the list of potential “Events” to enjoy over the summer or get a jump on “Grant and Scholarship” opportunities. Hope you all have a wonderful summer –“as you wish” – Gazette readers!
WEBSITES OF INTEREST
State wildlife officials announced that a nutria was killed on agricultural land west of Stockton in San Joaquin County. It’s the farthest north the species has been confirmed of the 32 nutria killed so far in California since their discovery in 2017. The confirmed kill puts the South American rodents on the edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Delta is the heart of California’s flood-control and water distribution system, supplying water to 25 million Californians and millions of acres of Central Valley farmland.
Landowners, we need your help! As of May 15, 2018, 65 nutria have been taken in California, with several additional animals confirmed present, across Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Fresno, Tuolumne, and Mariposa Counties. CDFW has deployed nutria survey teams from the Delta through the San Joaquin Valley. CDFW needs written access permissions to enter or cross private properties for the purposes of conducting nutria surveys and, where detected, implementing trapping efforts. Confirmed detections of nutria in California can be viewed in the nutria detection map in this web page.
The nutria (Myocastor coypus), a large, semi-aquatic rodent native to South America, originally was brought to the United States in 1889 for its fur. When the nutria fur market collapsed in the 1940s, thousands of nutria were released into the wild by ranchers who could no longer afford to feed and house them. Entrepreneurs began selling the herbivores to control noxious weeds. Wildlife agencies further expanded the range of the nutria by introducing the species into new areas of the United States. While the nutria did devour weeds and overabundant vegetation, they also destroyed native aquatic vegetation, crops, and wetland areas.
Two-foot-long rodents called nutria, which can grow as large as 20 pounds, are the latest threat to California’s wetlands. But here’s the good news: they apparently taste great in jambalaya. They look tasty enough. A website called Exotic Meat Market compares nutria to dark turkey meat — and one nutria has twice as many drumsticks!
Despite looking like a giant rat, wild nutria are clean animals. They consume plants only and among the healthiest of meats to consume. “With the help of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, we cooked nutria stews, nutria soups, roasted nutria, and grilled nutria at many functions,” said Chef Parola. “All of our efforts of teaching the public about unusual and different food have had a gradual positive impact. Today more people are eating nutria than ever before.”
In some biology classes, students read about invasive species. Last week, in professor Joe Roman’s course, Marine Ecology and Conservation, his students were eating them. Sitting in an elegant dining room at the Courtyard Marriot in downtown Burlington, his students tucked into a seafood feast prepared by chef Doug Paine—including smoked pulled nutria and Hungarian style baked carp in sour cream with wild mushrooms. Both the periwinkles and the crabs are invaders from Europe and North Africa, causing havoc in marine ecosystems along the East Coast.
The mission of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife Invasive Species Program is to reduce the negative effects of non-native invasive species on the wildlands and waterways of California. We are involved in efforts to prevent the introduction of these species into the state, detect and respond to introductions when they occur, and prevent the spread of invasive species that have become established. Our projects address problems with introduced animals and plants, both terrestrial and aquatic. Studies show that preventing introductions is the most effective and cost-efficient way to manage invasive species. Site includes a great video overview on why California officials fear this lapdog-sized swamp rodent.
The Invasive Species Program has identified numerous actual and potential invasive species from which we strive to protect California’s wildlands and waterways. Many invaders have already established populations in various regions of California and occur in different stages of the invasion process. Click on the profiles below to learn about each species’ description, distribution, habitat preference, pathways of spread, impacts, and what to do if you find one.
CDFW’s Invasive Species Program is enlisting the help of California’s citizen scientists in launching a statewide effort to monitor for quagga mussels. Citizen scientists are concerned/interested members of the public that assist scientists, researchers, and resource managers by conducting surveys, collecting data, and reporting observations. How can you join the effort? Details and data sheets are on this website! With such a large variety of on-going citizen science efforts in California, across the nation, and globally, there’s a project out there to fit everyone’s interests!
Invasive plants are by nature a regional or local problem. A plant that jumps out of the garden in one climate and habitat type may behave perfectly in another. This website is organized by region, so you can learn which plants are most problematic in your area, and what alternative plants make good replacements. We also offer California-wide guides to alternatives for invasive trees and aquatic plants.
It’s no secret “The Princess Bride” was not a box office success when it opened in 1987. And it’s also no secret that thanks to home video, cable, DVD, and now Blu-ray, the charmingly funny fractured fairy tale directed by Rob Reiner and adapted by William Goldman from his 1973 novel, has become part of the cultural landscape. But did you know the film once saved a woman’s life?
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES
The California Project WET program and our sponsors are eager to assist in supporting local professional development and water education outreach efforts. Our volunteer network of workshop Facilitators has been hard at work designing and organizing workshops for the upcoming seasons!
These specialized Project WET workshops provide an opportunity for new and veteran Project WET educators to interact with California climate change researchers during a day of learning about the basics of weather and climate science, how the California Department of Water Resources and other California organizations are applying this science to safeguard California water resources – and how Project WET activities can help you integrate climate science concepts and skills back in the classroom – Join us in Long Beach, San Diego or Arcata!
Vast riparian forests, wetlands, vernal pools and grasslands loaded with once sprawled across a far more biologically diverse Central Valley that sprung from the seasonal ebb and flow of flood waters swelling the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and all their tributaries, from Red Bluff and Fresno to converge on the Delta. Come learn about issues plaguing California’s aging flood and water conveyance systems and the floodplain restoration can play in not only safeguarding our homes and business from flooding, but also providing other ecosystem services ranging from increased biological diversity to improving water quality – Join us in Stockton, Fresno, West Sacramento or Chico this summer!
Enjoy a week with natural resource professionals and advocates gaining a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. Attending educators will receive a high-quality, interdisciplinary professional development experience focused on content and practices at the heart of current forest issues – as well as Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. We’ll also help you translate your experience back to the classroom and you’ll leave with a wealth of environmental education curriculum- including Project Learning Tree and Project WET! A $25 registration fee includes all housing, meals and materials you will receive throughout the week – and an opportunity to receive credit and a $200 stipend. The Shasta session is still open for registration!
Join us for an exploration of watersheds, ground water, and water quality monitoring using lessons from Project WET and a variety of lessons that will teach about the wetlands and the ocean using the California Coastal Commission’s NGSS-aligned Coastal Choices & Voices curriculum. We will be at beautiful Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley on day 1 and the Carmel River beach on day 2. A $15 registration fee for 1 day or $25 for both includes all materials and breakfast snacks & beverages. Please register by clicking here!
The EEI Curriculum is 85 K-12 grade units that teaches standards through an environmental lens, including understanding resources, conservation, where our food, energy, and water come from, and complicated decision-making processes related to climate change, green chemistry and use of our public lands. California examples make learning relevant and stimulate student involvement with the world around them. Click here to see a list of correlating Project WET activities to use with individual EEI units!
June 2 –June 10, 2018: California Invasive Species Action Week
The goals of the California Invasive Species Action Week are to increase public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against California’s invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources. Help us celebrate California’s Invasive Species Action Week, by volunteering to take action to help stop the spread of invasive species, Find an event near you by visiting our list of 2018 Schedule of Events! Don’t forget to check out the Project WET activity ‘Invaders’ (p: 263)!
June 8: World Oceans Day
On World Oceans Day, people around our blue planet celebrate and honor the ocean, which connects us all. Get together with your family, friends, community, and the planet to start creating a better future. Working together, we can and will protect our shared ocean. Click here to see how you can join in!
July 7 & September 1, 2018: California Free Fishing Days
If you are new to the sport of fishing, a great opportunity awaits you. CDFW offers two Free Fishing Days each year. On these days, you can fish without a sport fishing license. Free Fishing Days provide a great, low-cost way to give fishing a try. Some CDFW Regions offer a Fishing in the City program where you can go fishing in the middle of major metropolitan areas. Fishing in the City and free fishing day clinics are designed to educate novice anglers about fishing ethics, fish habits, effective methods for catching fish, and fishing tackle. You can even learn how to clean and prepare your catch so you can enjoy it for dinner that night.
September 15, 2018: California Coastal Cleanup Day
California Coastal Cleanup Day brings awareness to the marine litter problem and provides a community event for direct involvement. Help us by joining in the fight to preserve wildlife by taking trash out of the environment. Volunteer alongside your families, friends, coworkers, scout troops, school groups, and service clubs. Plan to spend a day outside connecting with your community to celebrate California!
September 22, 2018: National Public Lands Day
From our neighborhood parks to our nation’s iconic national parks and forests, public lands of all sizes and varieties are the places where we live, learn, play, exercise, and relax. Now it’s your turn to give back! NPLD is a fee-free day for all federal public lands and many state parks. Bring your family, friends, students, or co-workers to spend the day outdoors giving back to your community by pulling invasive species, maintaining trails, picking up trash, and more. Your work will help ensure our public lands continue to be beautiful places for all to enjoy. Click here for more information!
September 22, 2018: Free Entrance Days in the National Parks
Celebrate National Public Lands Day with free entrance to a local National Park! Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise. Click here to learn about discounts and special offers from park partners.
September 27 – 29, 2018: California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference
Join us in beautiful Palm Springs for the 2018 Agriculture in the Classroom Conference! Open to educators (formal and informal) who want to LearnAboutAg! Come find new and exciting ways to bring food, fiber, forests, flowers, and fuel into your learning environment. Registration is now open – and a limited number of scholarships are available!
GRANTS, SCHOLARSHIPS & STUDENT CONTESTS
Target Field Trip Grants - Deadline: September 30, 2018
Some of the best learning opportunities happen outside the classroom, but it’s become increasingly difficult for schools to fund learning opportunities outside the classroom. To help schools out, we launched Field Trip Grants in 2007. Since then, we’ve made it possible for millions of students to go on a field trip. Target stores award Field Trip Grants to K-12 schools nationwide. Each grant is valued up to $700. We accept grant applications between noon CST Aug. 1 and noon CST Oct. 1.
Project Learning Tree Greenworks Grants - Deadline: September 30, 2018
Project Learning Tree offers GreenWorks! grants up to $1,000 to schools and youth organizations for environmental service-learning projects that link classroom learning to the real world. Students implement an action project they help design to green their school or to improve an aspect of their neighborhood’s environment. The funds can be used by students to implement recycling programs at their school, conserve water and energy, establish school gardens and outdoor classrooms, improve a forest, restore a natural habitat, and more. To be eligible to apply for a grant, applicants must have attended a PLT workshop, either in-person or online.
Toshiba America Foundation Grant: Grades K – 5 - Deadline: October 1, 2018
Do you have an innovative idea for improving math or science instruction in your classroom? Is your idea project based learning with measurable outcomes? What do you need to make learning math and science fun for your students? K-5 grade teachers are invited to apply on-line for a $1,000 Toshiba America Foundation grant to help bring an innovative hands-on project into their own classroom. With a Toshiba America Foundation grant, elementary teachers can bring their best new teaching ideas to life.
California Project WET Gazette is published by the Water Education Foundation, which serves as the state coordinator and host institution for Project WET USA, a program of the Project WET Foundation.
Editor: Brian Brown, California Project WET Coordinator