Save the Marsh with... Nutria Dog Snacks?

The highly invasive critter known as the nutria has long threatened marsh grasses throughout the south. One company has started putting the rat-like mammal to use in a different way.

Given our recent discussion of efforts to restore coastal wetlands and their importance to wintering waterfowl, a timely press release hit my inbox this morning. It seems a two-year-old pet snack company called "Marsh Dog" now offers dog treats made from nutria, a highly invasive, rat-like marsh critter that's actually a close relative of the porcupine.

How does this benefit the marsh? According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, nutria have gnawed through 80,000 acres of marsh grasses since their arrival seven decades ago (they're native to several South American countries). Smaller than beavers but bigger than muskrats, nutria breed year round and only consume about 10-percent of what they mow down.

Given their rate of destruction on an already threatened habitat, in 1998 Louisiana began paying bounties for any nutria turned in by hunters. However, though nutria is considered a delicacy in South America and offers less fat and cholesterol than chicken or turkey, most of the meat was simply discarded.

"What a waste," company founder Hansel Harlan recalls thinking. "Why not make dog treats with them? The meat is highly nutritious, lean, free of chemicals, artificial hormones, antibiotics and fillers found in many mass-produced pet products."

Harlan has since invented several nutria-inspired snacks and, in 2012, Marsh Dog was named “Conservation Business of the Year” by the Louisiana Governor’s Conservation Achievement Recognition program.

So, perhaps your duck dog could help save the marsh one snack at a time. What do you think: Will you feed your dog nutria?

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