Rules of Engagement

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

that tend to overpopulate.

Especially in late winter/early spring or in late summer, decomposition of plant material sometimes depletes the oxygen in pond water and kills fish. The carcasses often drift to shore to be consumed by raccoons and other scavengers. Great blue herons and even other catfish sometimes cause wounds that contribute to fish mortality. Sampling the fish population is a good way to determine whether there is a serious problem and whether otters or something else is the cause.

Withdraw the welcome mat--Otters generally stay for shorter periods if there isn't a convenient place for them to "hole up." Removing brush piles, overflow pipes, beaver lodges/dens and even overturned boats and other places where otters may rest would encourage them to leave sooner.

Lure them away--This approach is not practical for otters. Even a more abundant food source nearby will not keep them from exploring other potential food sources.

Scare them if you can--This also has limited application for otters. Shooting "shell crackers" or live ammunition near them may scare them away temporarily, but is not a practical long-term deterrent.

Owner May Protect Property--As mentioned above, landowners have a right to protect their property under the Wildlife Code of Missouri. If the above approaches fail or aren't practical, this "trump" card remains available.

One option is to shoot the otters that are causing the damage. It's best to use a shotgun rather than a rifle to reduce the possibility of projectiles ricocheting from the water's surface. Another option is to trap the otters. If feasible, wait until the fall trapping season begins in November. If you obtain a trapping permit, you or a local trapper may sell the pelt and make some use of the animal. Your nearest Conservation Department office can help you obtain a list of available trappers associated with the Missouri Trappers Association.

The Conservation Department has a new book titled: Missouri's River Otters: A Guide to Management and Damage Control. This publication gives detailed information on river otter biology and habits, along with instructions for evaluating and dealing with river otter damage.

The Missouri Department of Conservation's Wildlife Damage Program and other Department staff are available to landowners experiencing wildlife damage. If a problem should occur and you need help, first contact the conservation agent in your county. If unable to find a solution, the agent will contact a wildlife damage biologist to provide further assistance. Five wildlife damage biologists are located throughout the state. They assist landowners by phone or may visit the site of the damage.

The program provides information and equipment necessary for landowners to solve their immediate problems and help prevent further damage. The Department is also experimenting with floating traps which hold promise of being another safe, cost-effective tool for controlling river otters in ponds. Any traps or materials needed are sold at cost to the landowner.

We Missourians are blessed to live in a state where wildlife is abundant and diverse. For the most part, we can live in harmony, but when critters cause problems, Conservation Department services are just a phone call away.

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