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Nebraska's first otter trapping season ends after 78 animals snared

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River otters

Trappers caught many of the river otters along the Platte River between Grand Island and Kearney.

It took biologists decades to repopulate the state with enough river otters to support this winter’s inaugural trapping season.

But trappers in 23 counties triggered the close of the season in a lot less time.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission gave them four months, November through February, to trap a total of 75 otters, with a limit of one apiece. The 75th animal would start a three-day countdown to end the season.

That happened Jan. 7, and three more were trapped through Jan. 10, for a total of 78.

“I thought the limit would be reached before the end of the harvest,” said Sam Wilson, the commission’s furbearer program manager. “But with initial seasons, you never know.”

Wilson has studied the animals for years. Though once common to Nebraska, they were gone by the early 20th century — victims of unregulated trapping, hunting and habitat destruction.

In the mid-1980s, the state launched a five-year repopulation program, releasing 159 otters from around the country and Canada into Nebraska’s river systems.

The imported animals thrived. The commission removed them from the endangered species list in 2020 — after their numbers had increased to about 2,000 and they’d spread across the state — and announced Nebraska’s first regulated river otter trapping season late last year.

Wilson plans to dive into the first-year trapping data and write a report, but he had initial thoughts.

Based on surveys and sightings from the public, officials knew the areas that were home to the most otters. And that’s where trappers snared 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 Southeast Nebraska, near the Nemaha and Missouri rivers.

“The harvest, to me, matches or aligns with what we already understood the distribution to be.”

Wilson will likely propose a second season, he said, which commissioners would have to approve.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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