SPRINGFIELD -- River otters are fair game for Illinois trappers for the first time since 1929 now that the population is back from the brink in a big way.
A loss of habitat and unregulated trapping had thinned their numbers, and it's unlikely there were more than 100 remaining before 1990. But since their reintroduction in Illinois in the mid-1990s, their population has boomed, helped by expanding populations in surrounding states.
The critters are known for being especially good swimmers and are prized by trappers for their pelts. They're also occasional nuisances, gorging in fishing ponds and cleaning out stocks.
The reintroduction started with 346 otters brought in from Louisiana. Their numbers reached 11,000 by 2009, according to a study by Southern Illinois University that pieced together an estimate through an examination of otter roadkill and those inadvertently caught in traps. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources expects they could number more than 30,000 in two years.
"It's hard to put a nose count on wildlife, but there are ways to estimate it," said Bob Bluett, a biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources. "We found we pretty much had more otters than we ever imagined."
Turns out it's a mixed blessing for the river otter, since the department concluded a harvest was now biologically sustainable.
The trapping season begins Nov. 5 in the zone north of Interstate 72, while the start date will be Nov. 10 in the southern zone, The State Journal-Register reported Thursday.
A good quality river otter pelt can get you $80 to $100, said Mike Gragert, president of the Illinois Trappers Association.
Trappers have to follow rules set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. A CITES-tagged pelt indicates it is from a river otter in North America, not an endangered species from another part of the world.