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Controversy in Times of Plenty

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

monitored and studied the otter's population growth. What we have found is that otters love Missouri!

Missouri otters have been reproducing at record rates not seen before in other parts of the otter's range. The University of Missouri reports that an astonishing 60 percent of one-year-old female otters breed in our state, as well as 90 percent of those age two and older. And they are having and raising three to four pups per litter! Because of this high reproduction rate, otters have spread quickly into habitats that we did not initially think would support otters, like private ponds and lakes and small streams and creeks.

By 1994, just 12 years after the first release and only two years after the final release in Boone County, the otter population was not only stable and self-sustaining, it had risen to the point that otters were reported to be causing property damage.

After careful analysis of scientific data about the otter population, the Conservation Commission approved the first trapping season to begin in November 1996. By that time, trappers were annually capturing over 100 otters in traps set for beaver and raccoons, some of which were released relatively unharmed from foothold traps (with considerable effort from trappers). Those caught in quick-killing type traps set for beavers under water were relinquished to Conservation Department agents, and most were used in educational displays at nature centers, conservation offices and some public schools.

Establishing a modern day otter trapping season has not been accomplished without controversy. Although a traditional method of harvest, trapping has been under fire more than other consumptive outdoor activities, like fishing and hunting. The thought of cute and playful otters being caught in traps dismays many people, prompting some to protest otter trapping.

The first two trapping seasons were challenged by two court cases. The first lawsuit was filed against the Conservation Department by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), an animal rights group based in California, and two Missouri citizens. In dismissing that challenge, the court ruled that Missouri's otter trapping season was not "arbitrary and capricious," as the suit alleged, and that the Conservation Department had followed all proper procedures in establishing the wildlife rules.

In the second lawsuit, the ALDF was joined by another animal rights group, the Washington D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, in U.S. District Court. This lawsuit was aimed at curtailing the market

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