Controversy in Times of Plenty

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

for otter pelts by seeking to block the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service from awarding Missouri export authorization in compliance with provisions of the CITES treaty (Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species). This lawsuit was dismissed in 1998.

In both lawsuits, the Conservation Department was accused of using vague, inconclusive, unreliable and even misleading data in order to cater to a small number of licensed trappers. They claimed that otter trapping would soon endanger the otter population and preclude other 'non-consumptive' wildlife values such as otter viewing. Despite having lost in court, the groups have orchestrated a form letter movement to oppose the trapping season.

Some of these charges seem unbelievable. The Conservation Department worked 11 years and spent $1.5 million to establish river otters in the state. We simply wouldn't turn around and nullify our work and investment and jeopardize the species by allowing an ill-advised trapping season.

Trapping seasons are set in mid-winter when animals are mature and independent. Traps must be checked daily, a practice normally followed by trappers to protect valuable fur from damage by other animals and to get traps back in production as quickly as possible.

The Conservation Department is concerned only with its mission of responsible stewardship of the state's forest, fish and wildlife resources. Overpopulation, even of highly attractive wildlife such as deer and otter, is in many cases even more of a problem than underpopulation and must be addressed. When animal numbers get out of hand, we invariably see a rise in damage and injury complaints, as well as threats from animal borne diseases, such as canine distemper and rabies.

Since 1994, the Conservation Department has received a steady stream of complaints about otter damage and the negative impact of otters on fishing success. Those complaints also have appeared in letters to editors and articles in newspapers.

Otters have been accused of invading private fishing ponds and commercial fish hatcheries stocked by individual landowners. Otters are notoriously adept at catching fish and can clean out a small pond in a matter of a few nights, sometimes leaving dead fish on the bank to rot. Landowners claim they are left with no sizeable fish to catch, and they aren't keen to invest in restocking ponds in the presence of numerous otters.

The otters are also accused of preying heavily on smallmouth and largemouth bass, goggle eye, catfish and suckers. Anglers

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