(Above) An estimated 2,000 to 5,000 muskrats call the Ventura Marsh their home.-Reporter photo.
by Marianne Gasaway
A muskrat invasion. That’s what Ventura City Clerk Else Taylor says residents are calling it.
Conservation officials prefer the phrase “planned marsh management.”
Either way, it’s making for some interesting times on the west end of Clear Lake.
“I’ve had people tell me muskrats are running up and down Main Street, going by the Post Office and across peoples’ decks,” said Taylor, adding she takes about a half dozen calls a week from concerned, if not angry, residents.
Conservation Officer Matt Washburn and Department of Natural Resources Furbearer and Wetland Biologist Vince Evelsizer admit they’ve never seen migrations to this extent, but say it is simply a response to the drain down of Ventura Marsh done in early December.
Planned management of the marsh has been a key element in the success of the C.L.E.A.R. Project. Lowering the water level effectively kills the carp in the marsh, and ultimately the quality of the water flowing into the lake is improved. Healthy marsh vegetation is credited with tying up unwanted nutrients and preventing them from flowing into the lake.
“Basically what happened is that the muskrats had settled into their huts and when warm weather arrived they became more active. They came out and discovered their water was gone and they have gone looking for it,” explained Evelsizer.
Problem is, there are an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 muskrats who call the 570-plus acre Ventura Marsh home. The majority of the ‘rats’ reside in the east half of the marsh where water is deeper. Evelsizer notes the rats help the marsh, as a whole, by eating vegetation, providing a good base for predators and naturally creating pockets of open water which draw in swans and Canada Geese.
“They create a great natural nesting habitat. Muskrats are very desirable in marshes,” he added.
“Changes in water levels help marshes stay in good condition which helps lake water quality and wildlife,” explained Washburn. “Recreational use of the marsh is up. Hunting and trapping numbers are up.”
The scheduled draw down of the marsh, combined with unseasonably warm weather throughout much of December, created “an uncommon occurrence brought about by normal marsh management.