Illinois trappers took just over 2,000 river otters during the 2012-13 season, the first time trappers could legally catch them since 1929.
Based on population estimates, Illinois Department of Natural Resources furbearer biologist Bob Bluett said he had expected between 1,200 and 1,800 otters to be taken. “The difference was fur prices were up,” he said. “More people were trapping and there was more opportunity to catch otters.”
License sales also were up from 4,996 in 2011-12 to 6,384 last season.
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 that fewer than 100 otters remained before 1990.
Since their reintroduction in Illinois from 1994 to 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 keep growing.
Bluett said the trappers’ take amounts to about 13 percent of the estimated river otter population.
“Which is kind of up towards the top end of breaking even from a population standpoint,” he said. “Generally speaking, with a 10 percent harvest, population still manages to increase at a low rate. When you get to 15-20 percent, you start to reduce (population) numbers.”
Bluett said he is “comfortable” with the 13 percent figure, but said, “some people’s perspective was that we had too many otters to begin with.”
‘Good prices don’t hurt’
Mike Gragert of New Douglas, president of the Illinois Trappers Association, said his phone has been ringing constantly as trappers seek information on the upcoming season and the state convention to be held Oct. 4-5 in Carlyle.
“We’ve just been seeing a steady increase (in participation) over the past three or four years,” he said. “I think it is because of several things, but I think a lot of people are looking for a way to connect with the outdoors.”