PETER SALTER Lincoln Journal Star
It took decades for biologists to repopulate the state with enough river otters to sustain this winter’s inaugural trapping season.
But trappers in 23 counties triggered the end of the season in much less time.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission gave them four months, from November through February, to trap a total of 75 otters, with a limit of one each. The 75th animal would begin a three-day countdown to end the season.
This happened on January 7 and three more were trapped until January 10, for a total of 78.
“I thought the limit would be reached before the harvest was finished,” said Sam Wilson, the commission’s fur animal program manager. “But with the first few seasons, you never know.”
In the mid-1980s, the state began a five-year restocking program, releasing 159 otters from around the country and Canada into Nebraska’s river systems.
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Imported animals thrived. The commission removed them from the endangered species list in 2020 — after their numbers swelled to around 2,000 and they spread across the state — and announced the first regulated trapping season for the Nebraska river otters late last year.
Wilson plans to dive into the first-year trapping data and write a report, but he had some initial thoughts.
Based on surveys and public observation, officials knew which areas had the most otters. And that’s where trappers have taken the most animals – along the Platte River in Hall and Buffalo counties; along the Elkhorn River in Holt and Antelope counties; the Niobrara River in Cherry County; and in southeastern Nebraska near the Nemaha and Missouri rivers.
“Harvest, for me, matches or aligns with what we’ve already understood to be distribution.”
Wilson will likely propose a second season, he said, which the commissioners will have to approve.
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On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter