By Carlos Correa

STOCKTON (CBS13) — The rodent that has launched a multi-agency task force is now threatening San Joaquin County.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has already spotted about 20 nutrias in Fresno, Merced and Stanislaus counties.

Several months ago, officials with San Joaquin County had a report of a possible sighting of nutria. They didn’t find anything, but with these latest sightings – it’s causing concern.

Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It’s a nutria, which they say is larger than a muskrat and smaller than a beaver, and an appetite for destruction.

“For us primarily, the issue would be the infrastructure because if we get flooding or if we can’t pump water off and can’t maintain those levees then, of course, it’s going to be difficult to farm in those areas,” said Tim Pelican, agriculture commissioner of San Joaquin County.

The rodent eats so much vegetation that it threatens wetlands and there could also be the loss of agriculture crops and levees. The animals have been sighted in three Central Valley counties and could make its way into the delta in San Joaquin County.

“Usually, somebody brings something like that into the area; it escaped, it doesn’t have any natural predators and then it begins to re-populate. These rodents have a lot of offspring’s every year,” he said.

Fish and wildlife officials are trying to eradicate the rodents and have set up a multi-agency task force to come up with a plan to deal with them.

“We’re all right now getting together trying to come up with a plan and just determine the extent of the problem and infestation, and we’re in the process of putting out traps and cameras to get a sense of where they are and how many there are,” said Peter Tira, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This is the first of its population, the state has seen since the 1970s. Officials are turning to the public for help in reporting any sightings before things get out of hand.

“They wreck agriculture crops, they are rodents; they carry diseases, they can pass disease onto livestock on people, and their pets,” he adds.

Traps have been set up in various parts of Fresno, Merced and Stanislaus counties.

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