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DNR's quiet projects get positive results


The Department of Natural Resources is involved in a number of projects that get little public notice.

Did you know, for example, that since 1987 a ruffed grouse trap-and-release project has been successfully sailing along in nearby Charles County? This is a joint DNR/Ruffed Grouse Society project and works similarly to the wildly successful turkey trap-and-release program.

"Joe Shugars has been running the project for us and he's been very successful. Joe, with the help of the Ruffed Grouse Society, has been trapping grouse in Western Maryland and releasing them at selected locations in Charles County," said Josh Sandt, the DNR's Director of Wildlife.

"In fact, it's working so well that we're considering our next release area."

That next site will be the Millington Wildlife Management Area in Kent County.

Another project that has been working well involves putting otters back into Garrett County. Sandt said Western Maryland was a traditional home of otters at one time.

"The Maryland Fur Trappers, and the cooperative efforts of Pennsylvania Game Commission, have been helping us re-establish the otter. The animals are trapped in Pennsylvania and released here. The project is very similar to the very successful beaver trap-and-release program we completed a few years ago," said Sandt.

The beaver program was so successful throughout the state that the animal is beginning to create nuisance problems in some areas.

One nuisance problem being addressed by this year's legislature is the nutria.

"The nutria, in case you are not familiar with it, is sort of a large version of the muskrat. It is not native to the area, but rather was released in the marshes many decades ago by the state with the intent of creating a fur and meat market," said Sandt.

"Well, that really did not happen. But the animal spread throughout the marshes of Dorchester County, especially in the Blackwater area and began to create big environmental problems that now must be addressed in a drastic manner."

Sandt said the rodent eats all of a plant, including the roots.

"The result is that it literally eats a hole in the marsh," he said.

The proposed legislation will use some of the money generated from duck stamp sales to create a bounty program "in hopes of totally eliminating the nutria from Maryland over the next 10 years," he said.

Sandt said, "Louisiana is the only other state that we are aware of with nutria, and they have an identical problem and as a last resort are also going with a bounty system. Down there, a nutria pelt is worth, at best, $1.50, so there is simply no fur market for it. They even tried a campaign to push the meat."

"I looked into that meat push," said Joyce Williams, the DNR's director of communications, "and they spent something like $250,000 and even printed up nutria cookbooks. They couldn't give the meat, the pelts or the books away."

Maryland's bounty, if passed by the legislature, will be in the area of $5 per nutria.

Maryland also is involved in a project with Quail Unlimited that began a couple of years back.

According to DNR figures, the state had about 250,000 bobwhite quail in 1975. By 1992, it had less than 50,000.

The culprit is loss of habitat to current farming methods and land development. The aim is to restore or re-establish natural cover such as weeds and clump grass. In areas where this has been achieved, the bobwhite has made a notable recovery.

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