President Donald Trump on Friday signed a law giving California a potential boost in federal funding for its campaign to eradicate a giant swamp rodent that has made its way into Central Valley waterways, threatening the region’s irrigation network.
It allows the federal government to give increased funding to eradicate a swamp rat species known as nutria. California was eligible for part of a $1.75 million per year pot, but this bill increases potential funding up to $12 million per year.
Nutria, a large South American rodent, were found in Merced County two years ago, alarming California wildlife officials because of the rodents’ potential to harm infrastructure that moves water to Central Valley farms and Southern California cities. They have since been found in San Joaquin County, the Delta and throughout the Valley.
More than 1,600 nutria have been killed in California so far, according to figures from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. California officials are hoping they can kill off all the nutria in the state in the next five to seven years.
The bill was authored by Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, and is the first bill the freshman sponsored that was signed into law. The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously in a procedural process that did not require a floor vote.
“It’s an incredible honor to have my first bill signed into law by the President – and it’s an example of what we can achieve if we’re willing to come together on commonsense issues,” Harder said. “Working together we’re going to protect our farmers, our water infrastructure, and the native ecosystems threatened by the swamp rat menace.”
Harder lugged a stuffed, dead nutria to congressional committees in order to illustrate the problem. He and his staff dubbed the dead rat “Nellie.”
The money would still need to be appropriated in a separate congressional budget bill in order for funding to actually go to California officials, the bill Trump signed merely authorizes Congress to do so. Congress has to pass another budget in December.
The $12 million pot would be awarded to certain states that apply for it, and can go to funding traps, programs to sterilize nutria and use them to lead trappers back to nests, training dogs to find the giant rodents and public education. Other eligible states include Louisiana — which has a nutria problem worse than California’s — and Maryland, where nutria are not an active threat but are still being monitored to ensure the population doesn’t return.