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Paying For Success: River Otters Are Being Trapped Again In Illinois

Once almost gone from Illinois, river otters are now back in big numbers.
Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources
Once almost gone from Illinois, river otters are now back in big numbers.

"They're wonderful, they're great. But sometimes too much is too much."

That's the basic problem confronting Illinois and its wild river otters, state Department of Natural Resources biologist Bob Bluett said earlier today on Morning Edition.

Thanks to the efforts of those who wanted to save the little creatures from extinction, the otter population in the state has exploded from about 100 just a few decades ago to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 today.

But those otters are invading fish farms and private ponds — where they're eating their fill.

So, for the first time in 83 years, as the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month, the state has opened an otter trapping season. It began Nov. 5 and extends to March 31. A trapping license (for state residents) costs $10.50. The additional permit to trap otters costs $5. There's a 5-otter limit per trapper, according to the state. It's assumed that many trappers will go on to sell the pelts. They recently fetched about $70 apiece, according to Peoria's Journal Star.

In the Tribune, Bluett said the fact that the state has opened an otter trapping season is "a success story many times over."

As for the otters, Bluett's department has a page of "interesting facts" about them. It writes that:

-- "At 35 to 53 inches from tip to tip, the river otter is Illinois' largest member of the weasel family. A stout tail makes up about 30 to 40 percent of its total body length. An otter uses its tail like a rudder while swimming. Adults weigh 10 to 25 pounds; males are about one third larger than females."

-- "From 1994 through 1997, 346 using small foothold traps and released in southeastern and central Illinois. Thanks to these efforts and expanding populations in nearby states, otters are now common and found in every county in Illinois. Their status was upgraded from state endangered to state threatened in 1999, and they were delisted in 2004."

-- The population "is expected to grow to more than 30,000 by 2014 if left unchecked."

-- "They can stay submerged for three to four minutes and swim up to a quarter mile underwater."

-- "As many as nine otters have been spotted together in Illinois. Smaller groups of three to five are more common, and usually consist of a female and her offspring. Males tend to be solitary, but sometimes join a family group or even form a bachelors club with other males."

On 'Morning Edition': Steve Inskeep speaks Illinois biologist Bob Bluett

An earlier post: "Fair Game: Wolf Hunting Begins In Wisconsin, Minnesota."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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