North Dakota may join states that allow otter trapping

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota could become the latest state to allow the killing of North American river otters, an animal that was once nearly wiped out in parts of the U.S. by unregulated harvests.

Experts say the otter population is thriving — thanks in part to managed harvests — but animal welfare groups worry the expansion of trapping in the U.S. and Canada in recent decades isn’t sustainable. They’re fighting in at least one state, Vermont.

Trappers in North Dakota for years have pressed state wildlife officials to allow otter trapping as the animals have moved into the eastern part of the state from Minnesota, where the member of the furred weasel family is more established.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department in July will recommend that Gov. Doug Burgum make the state the 34th to allow trapping. The agency is suggesting a four-month season, with no more than 15 animals killed, said agency furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker. She said the population has grown enough to justify a limited harvest.

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“Anytime you have a new opportunity there for someone to enjoy a new recreational opportunity, it’s our responsibility to look at that and offer that … if the data supports it,” Tucker said.

Burgum will “carefully consider” the proposal, spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.

River otters were once abundant throughout North America, but unregulated trapping, water pollution and habitat loss had depleted populations by the early 1900s, according to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The animals rebounded with improvements in water quality, reintroduction programs in many states and regulated harvests.

The number of legally trapped otters has risen from about 11,000 in 1970 to about 20,000 in 2014, according to association data. The International Otter Survival Fund estimates that about 40,000 river otters are actually killed in…

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