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Illinois hunting and fishing

Since the river otter was reintroduced to Illinois waterways from 1994 - 1997, its numbers have increased to the point that a trapping season has been established. File/The State Journal-Register.

“Prime” time for otter trapping ahead

January 03, 2013 at 10:54 PM

The State Journal-Register

With the prime weeks still ahead, it’s a little early to tell how Illinois’ first river otter trapping season since 1929 is going.

About 500 otters have been registered so far, with the season less than half over, said Bob Bluett of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Otters — and other furbearers — are just now coming into their “prime,” as far as the quality of the fur and hides.

The season closes statewide March 31.

“I’ve talked to several trappers who are having a successful season,” said Carroll Williams, vice-president of the Illinois Trappers Association from Fairfield. “I’ve talked to one guy who has caught three, one guy who caught five (the limit for a season) and I’ve got two.

“They are very abundant, and I’m seeing lots and lots of sign (of the otters’ presence).”

The fact that there are enough otters to support a trapping season at all is a conservation success story.

The river otter had become rare in the state by the early 1900s due to habitat loss and unregulated harvest. It is likely fewer than 100 otters remained before 1990.

Since their reintroduction in Illinois from 1994-1997, otters have thrived, with populations growing quickly — so quickly that they occasionally become nuisances, cleaning out fishing ponds near rivers and streams.

In 2009, Illinois was home to an estimated 11,000 otters. That number was expected to grow beyond 30,000 by 2014, according to DNR.

Working through the process

To take river otters, trappers have to follow specific guidelines (available at http://tinyurl.com/dnrotter).

Those pelts have to be tagged in accordance with rules set by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

While river otters in Illinois are no longer endangered, there are lookalike species that are still protected. A tagged pelt tells authorities it is from a river otter in North America, not an endangered species from another part of the world.

Mike Gragert of New Douglas, president of the Illinois Trappers Association, said few complaints have surfaced.

“Some of the guys are kind of concerned about getting the (CITES) tags in time to ship or sell the fur,” he said. “But for the first time around, I haven’t heard very many complaints. It has gone pretty smooth so far.”

“We’re just starting to see some of them because the tagging process is kind of slow,” said fur buyer Ron Bloebaum of Decker, Ind. “It’s a new thing for the trapper and a new thing for the state. There’s nothing easy about it.”

Beavers and otters are found in the same habitats and their seasons run concurrently.

Before otter trapping was legal, river otters occasionally were caught in beaver traps.

Now, Gragert says, otters caught will be properly reported so the effects of trapping can be scientifically evaluated.

“A harvest of 2,000 statewide would put us in good shape,” he said. “I think we’ll harvest that many, but it depends on the weather.”

Trappers are required to check their traps once a day. If the weather prevents a daily check, trappers may pull their sets rather than take a chance.

“With all the snow in southern Illinois, it put a damper on a lot of fur trapping period,” Gragert said.
Bloebaum said even though otters sometimes are caught in beaver sets, trappers are finding the new quarry a challenge.

Otters are found in the same habitat, but may not return to the same area for up to a week, he said.

“(Otter trapping is a) little harder than they thought it would be,” he said. “It is something new, and it takes some time to learn what to look for and figure out where they are going to be.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

Fur auctions

Illinois Trappers Association fur auctions for 2013

Jan. 12 (doors open 6 a.m.), Odell Community Building, Odell

Jan. 26 (doors open 6 a.m.), Wayne County Fairgrounds, Fairfield.

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