Coyote or coon

High prices promote coyote hunters to hit the fields. Courtesy photo

If you were to guess at the total number of furbearing animals harvested by trappers and hunters in South Dakota, it would seem reasonable to assume that there would be more of the smaller creatures in the take. 

Muskrat, for example, live in ponds and we have those aplenty back east. The term rat in their name also implies that there is a reproductive capacity akin to other vermin that multiply like um ... well rats. There are thousands of them. 

Or perhaps rabbits? 

Since so many other predators make a living eating the flesh of Brookings’ mascot, it would seem that many more of them would be gathered up by fur traders. Yet last season’s tally of jackrabbits came to only 3,000.

The grand champion furbearer in South Dakota’s latest report is the coyote, with last season’s harvest being greater than any other animal gathered at 11,819 animals. With this season’s spike in fur prices next year’s statistics could climb even higher.South Dakota Coyote pelts brought in more than $ 485,000 according to the latest harvest report, nearly three times the totals for all other species combined. Just five years ago, that title was held by the racoon with 58,000 animals taken. Sixteen thousand coyotes were harvested that year also, far exceeding this year’s total. 

Why the difference? 

A 17 percent decline in the sale of trapping licenses could be part of the answer.  

Only 11,534 racoons were trapped or shot and submitted to fur buyers in 2017. That total could be attributed to crafty trappers saving furs and waiting for a stronger price, a dramatic decline in the number of racoons, or a reluctance on the part of trappers to harvest animals while prices are not high enough to cover their expenses. 

If that later reason is true, pheasants and prairie pothole waterfowl are in for a terrible nesting season. 

State biologists and the governor follow the harvested demographics of small predators using that total as s type of barometer for the future success of nesting birds. In 2013, more than 20,000 small predators other than raccoons were submitted by trappers to fur buyers. In 2017, that figure had fallen by 90 percent to less than 2,000. 

Between the 46,000 raccoons and the 18,000 additional skunks, possums, weasels, and mink that were never trapped, the nesting birds could take a beating come spring. 

To prevent that from happening, the governor’s office has implemented a bounty program. It was designed to remove surplus predators after two punishing winters have taken a toll on bird populations. 

Flocks that support a $100-plus million-dollar tourism industry, 

Called the Nest Predator Bounty Program, trappers will be paid $10 per tail as evidence that an unwanted animal has been removed. 

Bounties will be paid on raccoon, striped skunk, badger, possum, and red fox. Program participants will be required to sign an affidavit affirming that the tails were obtained after April 1, 2019. 

The affidavits are designed to encourage new trappers and deter previous animals that were captured but not submitted to fur buyers due to low prices. 

Knowing that here was a need to recruit new trappers also, the Game, Fish, and Parks initiated a live trap give away program. 

It was so successful that it had sold out in hours.

Traps will not be dispersed until after the first of April, with three units going to each of the initial 5500 successful applicants. 

All others were turned away until next season after the success of the initial dispersal is measured. 

The governor’s initiative will be a success if it can increase the number of new trappers, reduce nest predators, and promote future outdoorsmen and women. 

 More pheasants and ducks will simply be a bonus. 

The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.

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