Furbearing mammals once gone, or almost gone, now BOOMING
(Reprinted from above link)
Original Title: Furbearing mammals once gone, or almost gone, from Pennsylvania, now booming
Furbearers like the river otter, fisher, beaver and bobcat were once gone, or almost gone, from the Pennsylvania landscape. But, with boosts from reintroduction programs and modern wildlife management, they’ve returned and have continued their comeback to that point that expanded seasons are being considered by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Proposed seasons for 2020-21 that will receive final votes by the commissioners in April include an expansion of the areas of the state where otter may be trapped and bobcat may be hunted and trapped, and an increase of the limit on beaver harvest in an area of the state where nuisance complaints continue at high levels.
If approved, bobcat hunting and trapping would be extended to Wildlife Management Unit 2B around Pittsburgh. The season will continue in WMUs 2A, 2C and 2E in southwestern Pennsylvania; 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D in northcentral and northeastern Pennsylvania; and 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E in central Pennsylvania.
WMUs 1A, 1B and 2F in northwestern Pennsylvania would be added to the area open to otter trapping , which already includes WMUs 3C and 3D in northeastern Pennsylvania.
And the season limit on beavers would be raised from 40 to 60 in WMUs 1A and 1B, while the limit on body-gripping traps allowed for each trapper’s use on the trapline would increase 10 to 20.
Here’s a look at the comeback stories that conservation, restoration and wildlife management won for each of the four species.
The bobcat was never fully extirpated from Pennsylvania, although habitat destruction and widespread persecution for its role as a predator greatly reduced the overall population and range of the species.
While Pennsylvania stopped paying $15 bounties on dead bobcats in 1938, the species remained unprotected and widely persecuted as “vermin” until it was classified as a furbearer in 1970.
That change cleared the way for the Game Commission to set regulations to manage bobcat populations, including tightly managed harvests by hunters and trappers. Under that both numerically and geographically throughout the state.
The Game Commission noted in its 2000 bobcat management plant that “bobcat populations are thriving in Pennsylvania and are valued as an important predator in Pennsylvania’s fields and forests. The conservation and management of Pennsylvania's bobcat population is of interest to hunters, trappers, and non-consumptive users alike.
“The development of a comprehensive bobcat conservation and management plan is necessitated by significant public interest in bobcats, the continued expansion of bobcat populations into suburbia, and a growing interest by hunters and trappers to sustainably harvest bobcats.”
The commission categorizes the bobcat population as increasing across much of northcentral, northeastern, southcentral and southwestern Pennsylvania.
Harvests by trappers and hunters has grown from 58-221 in the first, most-restrictive seasons of 2000 through 2005. They gradually increased to a peak of 1,164 in 2013. Last year 925 bobcats were killed by sportsmen in Pennsylvania.
Before Europeans arrived, river otters were found in every major watershed of the state, and across North America. But by the mid-1900s, habitat destruction, water pollution and unregulated harvest had removed the species from much of its former range, including all of Pennsylvania except the northeastern corner.
Restoration efforts launched in 1982 led to the return of the otter to much of the state and a population increase for the species that now extends nearly 40 years.
A factor limiting expansion of the population across more of the state are the more than 4,000 miles of streams polluted by acid mine drainage. During the restoration effort, in 1993 a blow-out of a deep mine contaminated the Casselman River and delayed reintroduction of otters into the Youghiogheny River, into which the Casselman emptied.
From 1982-2004, the Pennsylvania River Otter Reintroduction Project released 153 otters into eight water systems in central and western Pennsylvania. The otters came from Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and the remaining native population in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The state was one of 21 to reintroduce more than 4,000 otters during that period. Some of the growing population in Pennsylvania came from the movement of otters reintroduced in border areas of Maryland, New York and Ohio.
Prior to the start of a limited trapping season for otters in 2016, incidental catch reported by trappers pursuing other furbearers like beavers was one gauge of the otter population in the state. Game Commission monitors noted a generally increasing trend, led by northeastern Pennsylvania, but also significant in the central and northwestern parts of the state.
In addition, except for scattered districts in the southern half of the state, wildlife conservation officers (now state game wardens) reported well established otter populations throughout the state.
The Game Commission’s river otter management plan noted, “All data suggest that otter populations are currently increasing in density and expanding geographically throughout Pennsylvania.
“Otter populations occupy all major river systems. The Delaware, Susquehanna, Allegheny and Youghiogheny rivers support sustained otter populations and act as travel corridors from which new populations disperse and expand geographically. The Potomac and Lake Erie watersheds maintain less dense populations but continue to increase in otter numbers annually.”
The 2016 river otter trapping season was the first in 65 years. There were 1,047 otter permits sold for the February 21-28 season in Wildlife Management Units 3C and 3D in northeastern Pennsylvania. The trappers harvested 46 otters. The top otter-harvest counties were Pike, Wayne, Susquehanna and Monroe.
Subsequent harvests under much the same parameters have been 36 in 2017, 35 in 2018 and 28 in 2019.
Beaver ponds on a mountain stream.
The beaver, which was abundant everywhere in North America when European colonists arrived, was eliminated from much of the continent and made scarce nearly everywhere it remained by unregulated trapping to fulfill the demand for top hats and apparel trimmings at $4 per pelt in the early 1800s. Pennsylvania was among those places from which the species was extirpated.
But the turn of the century brought protection for the beaver in 1903 and the return of a single pair from Wisconsin released into a remote Cameron County valley in 1917. Descendants of that pair were live-trapped and moved to refuges across the state and supplemented with a hundred beavers bought from Canadian wildlife agencies.
By 1934 the population was large and stable enough to allow a trapping season, during which trappers harvested more than 6,000 beavers. That harvest has climbed steadily from that point, hitting a peak of 18,212 in 2011 and remaining close to 10,000 per year.
Beavers also are the source of hundreds of wildlife complaints every year, as they cut down trees, build their dams and flood pastures, fields, backyards and roads. Trapping is the generally accepted solution to those problems.
While no expansion of trapping seasons, areas open to trapping or bag limits are proposed for fishers, that species also has a comeback story of conservation and wildlife management success.
The fisher, which also are known as the black cat, fisher cat, tree otter, tree fox, fisher weasel, pekan, oochik and wejack, were distributed across most of Pennsylvania except the southeastern corner prior to the deforestation of most of the state in the 19th century. The last remnant populations prior to the species’ extirpation from the state were in Clearfield, Elk, Cameron, Clinton, Potter and Sullivan counties.
The return of the species to Pennsylvania began soon after a 1969 reintroduction program was launched in West Virginia with 23 fishers from West Virginia. That re-established population gradually spread throughout West Virginia and into Maryland, Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. A New York reintroduction effort, moving 30 fishers from the Adirondacks into the Catskills that eventually expanded the new population into northeastern Pennsylvania.
The Game Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Penn State conducted Pennsylvania’s own reintroduction effort in 1994-98, releasing 190 fishers at six sites in northern Pennsylvania.
According to the commission’s management plan for the species, “Today, fisher populations are well established and increasing throughout southwestern, central and northern regions of the state, and fisher have become established even in some rural and suburban habitats once thought unsuitable for this adaptive forest carnivore.”
The commission launched a limited fisher trapping season in 2010. After an initial harvest of 152, the annual take by trappers has trended generally upward, reaching a record 504 last year.