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Controversy in Times of Plenty

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

concept of trapping infuriates some and has led a few other states to outlaw or severely restrict this method of harvest. Missourians, however, seem to recognize the role of trapping in wildlife management. In a 1997 poll, more than 70 percent of Missouri residents agree that regulated trapping is OK. Trapping is an essential tool for keeping wildlife populations stable.

Keep in mind that the otters brought to Missouri to reestablish our population were themselves caught in foothold traps, and look how they've flourished!

The otter comeback has been amazing and it's not confined to Missouri. Nearly 4,000 healthy otters have been trapped and moved to new homes in 18 states. Although Missouri's program wasn't the first ever, it has been the most intensive. Many states have consulted with us and have patterned their efforts after ours. Once again, we have taken the lead in creating biodiversity.

In search of a better trap

Missouri leads the nation in the search for a more humane trap. The Conservation Department's Columbia Research Center is headquarters for a 21-state, 5-year effort to improve trap efficiency while reducing the pain or discomfort inflicted on animals.

The study, a partnership of the USDA's Wildlife Services, state fish and wildlife agencies and trappers, will determine new codes of conduct or Best Management Practices (called BMPs) that will be implemented across the country in trapper education programs and trapping regulations.

Already, 32 types of traps have been evaluated on nine different species. Three wildlife veterinarians and their staffs carefully examine each animal caught by trappers in the studies to evaluate a trap's performance. Wildlife biologists also measure the trap's selectivity, efficiency, cost-effectiveness and practicality.

The $700,000 annual study is expected to bring about modifications in the design of existing traps to reduce discomfort to animals and the development of new traps, such as the EGG trap (pictured below) for raccoons, that are more efficient, selective and humane.

Although often under fire from animal rights proponents, trapping has proven itself to be a valuable management tool for controlling wildlife numbers and reducing wildlife damage. After traps were banned in Massachusetts in 1996, beaver numbers rose from 18,000 to 55, 000 in only three years and flooding damage to roads and buildings skyrocketed. Nationwide, beavers cause an estimated $500 million damage annually.

Trapping is carefully regulated. About 200,000 families nationwide earn some secondary income from trapping, either from the sale of pelts or other animal byproducts.

Otter Appetites

On average, an otter eats about 2.5 pounds of meat per day. Researchers examined 443 otter stomachs voluntarily submitted by trappers during the 1997/98 and 1998/99 trapping seasons. Just like people, otters often eat more than one item in a meal. Researchers discovered the following frequencis of occurrence of food itmes in otter digestive tracts:

Otter Stomachs containg identifiable fall prey items
Type Percent
Crayfish 61
Fish 51
Frogs 17
Muskrats 3
Ducks 1
Empty 4
Ozark otter stomachs containing identifiable fish species
Species percent
Bass (sunfish family) 39
Suckers and Carp 31
Minnows 14
Shad 11
Pike (chain pickerel) 6
Trout 3
Catfish 3
Drum 3
Unidentified Fish 19
Age of Game Fish in Ozark Otter Stomachs
Age Percent
1-3 years 40
4-6 years 40
7-9 years 20

Trapping is carefully regulated. About 200,000 families nationwide earn some secondary income from trapping, either from the sale of pelts or other animal byproducts. triangle

State Released Years
Missouri 845 1982-92
Tennessee 487 1983-94
Kentucky 355 1991-94
Illinois 346 1994-97
Indiana 303 1995-99
North Carolina 267 1990-95
Iowa 261 1985-99*
West Virginia 249 1984-97
Nebraska 159 1986-91
New York 153 1995-99*
Ohio 123 1986-92
Pennsylvania 105 1982-99*
Colorado 86 1976-91
Maryland 80 1990-99*
Arizona 46 1981-83
Minnesota 21 1980-82
Oklahoma 20 1984-85
Kansas 19 1983-84

*Ongoing releases

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