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N.D. proposes otter season

Stephanie Tucker, North Dakota Game and Fish Department furbearer biologist.1 / 2
River otters are becoming more abundant in North Dakota, and the Game and Fish Department is proposing a limited trapping season on the furbearers next fall. (Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)2 / 2

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is proposing a limited trapping season on river otters beginning in November 2017.

According to Stephanie Tucker, furbearer biologist for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the quota for the statewide season would be 15 otters. The season would be limited to traps and cable devices and would open in conjunction with other furbearer seasons.

The proposed season would be open from Nov. 27, 2017 through March 15, 2018, but would close early if the 15-otter quota was reached, Tucker said.

Only North Dakota residents could trap otters, and the limit would be one otter per trapper.

Tucker said North Dakota hasn't offered a season on river otters since 1920, and the furbearers basically were gone from the state until the early 2000s, when the department began to see an uptick in confirmed reports.

Those reports reflected a westward expansion from Minnesota, she said.

"We've been pretty diligent about collecting data and doing research for the past 15 years," Tucker said. "We think the timing is right to propose an open trapping season."

River otters never were historically abundant in North Dakota because the state doesn't have much of the habitat otters favor, such as ponds, streams and lakes with a lot of timber, Tucker said.

Most of North Dakota's otters inhabit riparian areas along the Red River and its tributaries, along with the Sheyenne, James and, to a lesser extent, Missouri rivers, she said. They also have been seen in Grand Forks city limits along the English Coulee and in the Red River.

North Dakota's otter population has been the subject of a couple of different research projects focusing on distribution through use of trail cameras and looking for droppings, tracks and other signs, Tucker said.

The research confirmed the otter increase state biologists had suspected.

The proposed 15-otter limit is based on the number of dead otters the department receives annually, Tucker said, and successful trappers would have to report their catches to the Game and Fish Department within 12 hours.

Trappers then would receive a tag to legally possess the pelt, Tucker said, and Game and Fish would collect the carcasses for further study.

"We feel confident we can reasonably manage a limited harvest," she said. "We don't know how many river otters there are in North Dakota, but we know 15 are dying every year, and that doesn't seem to affect the population. It's still expanding, still growing."

Tucker said the proposed season would be open statewide because beavers are the only other furbearers that live in the areas otters inhabit, and beaver season is open year-round.

The 15-otter limit wouldn't include otters taken outside of established season dates or by animal control experts, private landowners defending their property, roadkills or harvested on American Indian lands.

Game and Fish outlined the proposed river otter season during its recent series of fall advisory board meetings. The department holds the meetings twice a year in each of the state's eight advisory board districts. Tucker attended meetings in Bismarck, Hankinson and Fordville, N.D., and said response to the proposal was overwhelmingly positive.

Game and Fish will further discuss the proposal during next spring's advisory board meetings, she said.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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