Politics & Government

Federal agents report shooting 4 nutria rodents at lake in ongoing kill

Federal wildlife agents have shot and killed four nutria over the past month around Olympia’s Capitol Lake, part of the ongoing effort to eliminate the nuisance rodents.

The work, carried out over three evenings and early mornings so far, is not done, according to the state Department of Enterprise Services, which manages the lake area.

“They’ll continue to go out and do control work,’’ DES spokesman Jim Erskine said Monday, noting that the wildlife agents shot two during their most recent outing last Thursday evening and Friday morning. “I don’t know how to characterize it in terms of progress. We certainly hope they get more.”

DES has the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife division under contract to shoot the animals, which are considered an invasive species. Several dozen of the beaver-sized swimming animals that originate from South America are believed to have taken up residence. The critters are known for tunneling, even under roadbeds, and causing environmental damage.

Officials describe nutria as furry dark brown rodents that measure about two feet long and have orange teeth and white whiskers. Shooting is considered the most humane and effective of the options considered, which included trapping and poisoning. The .22 caliber rifles were muffled to limit noise impacts.

About three dozen of the animals are thought to reside around the lake, and initial efforts to shoot them with rifles bagged just one the first night out.

“We just haven’t seen what we thought was there,’’ said Matt Cleland, Western Washington district supervisor for USDA’s wildlife services. Additional shoots are not yet scheduled, he added.

Wildlife agents have emphasized their pest control methods put public safety first, which has limited the shots taken. So far, Erskine said, the two agencies have not heard from groups critical of the killings, which take place during late evening and early morning hours when the animals are active.

DES did get queries – one from a man who offered to shoot the animals for free and another from a woman who wanted animals’ skins so she could practice tanning. Erskine said the state turned down both offers, the latter because of concerns that hides could spread the invasive New Zealand mud snail that the agency also is battling in Capitol Lake.

Nutria were brought to Washington for use by the fur industry during the 1930s, according to a fact sheet compiled by DES. Once released or escaped into the wild, the species rapidly spread.