October 31, 2006

Furbearer Forecast,: ; DNR Officials:Outlook Good for W.Va. Trappers

By John McCoy

Though its presence often gets lost amid the hullabaloo about hunting, West Virginia's trapping season remains an important part of wildlife officials' attempts to manage furbearer populations.

"Trapping is absolutely important to this state," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the Division of Natural Resources. "Not only are trappers an important constituent group for our agency, they perform a crucial function in keeping certain species of animals from becoming too abundant."

Johansen said trapping has helped West Virginia avoid some of the wildlife-related problems that have plagued other states.

"In Massachusetts, for example, beaver trapping was restricted. Beaver populations spiraled out of control, and taxpayers ended up shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix road flooding and other problems created by beaver dams," he explained. "That work would never have been necessary if trapping had been allowed."

Twelve furbearer species can be trapped during West Virginia's state-sanctioned season - raccoons, red and gray foxes, bobcats, mink, muskrats, fishers, beavers, coyotes, skunks, opossums and weasels. This year's season begins Nov. 4.

Rich Rogers, the DNR's furbearer project leader, said trappers should enjoy "reasonable success" this year.

"Furbearer populations are in good shape," he said. "And if the weather stays cold, the animals' coats will get into prime shape more quickly. When you add those factors to the current market conditions, which are better than they have been for a while, the outlook is pretty good."

A relative abundance of nuts, berries and other wildlife foods during the past two autumns has helped to expand furbearer populations.

"Most people have trouble grasping that because furbearers don't eat nuts and berries," Rogers explained. "But when mast is abundant, small mammal populations increase. The predators that feed on those mammals get more to eat, and when they do their populations expand as well."

West Virginia's bobcat population, for example, is higher than surrounding states'. Coyotes also are abundant, as are fishers and beavers.

"We're really enthusiastic about the way our fisher range is expanding," Rogers said. "Population densities have increased in the core ranges, and range expansion has been amazing. People are seeing and catching fishers in counties we never would have imagined."

Muskrats and mink, on the other hand, aren't faring as well. "Biologists are noting declines in muskrat populations throughout the United States," Rogers said. "No one really seems to know why. There's speculation that it might have something to do with acid rain or toxic chemicals, but so far no one has defined it. Whatever it is, it seems to be having an effect on mink, too."

Trappers who work the woods and waters of the state this year can expect to be reasonably compensated for their efforts. Rogers said the fur market is "looking pretty good."

"Muskrat prices are really good, $8 to $9 a pelt. That's up from a low of $1.50. We're not going to see prices like we saw during the fur boom of the 1980s, but we're at least getting prices that are good enough to make trapping worth a person's time."

To contact staff writer John McCoy, use e-mail or call 348-1231.

(c) 2006 Sunday Gazette - Mail; Charleston, W.V.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.