Wisconsin furbearer outlook very promising

DNR furbearer specialist

Wisconsin is blessed with a wonderful diversity of common and
unique members of furbearing wildlife. Beaver, coyote, raccoon, and
muskrat are good examples of the more common species. The more
secretive bobcat, fisher, and otter are doing well in the north and
slowly expanding southward. Then there’s the marten, an endangered
species barely holding its own in two small regions of the

Most of Wisconsin’s furbearer populations are doing well. Last
year’s mild winter did improve harvest, but that did not impact
overall populations.


Raccoons are found in a variety of rural and urban habitats.
Those areas close to wetlands or farmland areas have the highest
populations, with the large northern forests being on the lower end
of the spectrum.

Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist for Vernon County, reports that
“raccoons are prevalent, with most landowners, especially farmers,
willing to allow trappers on their land to reduce their

Kerry Beheler, wildlife health specialist from Madison, said
high populations of raccoons can produce localized pockets of
canine distemper virus (CDV) infection. In the past few years there
were widespread problems with (CDV) causing raccoon deaths.

Wildlife managers suggest this will be a good year to train
young dogs, or ask permission to trap on new lands. With raccoons,
there’s not a problem getting landowner permission to hunt or trap,
but trappers should allow ample time to contact landowners and
learn from them where best to focus their attention.

The raccoon season opens statewide for residents on Oct. 16,
with the exception of the Mississippi River Zone where that season
opens with the muskrat and mink seasons. The season in both zones
runs through Jan. 31. There is no bag limit on raccoons.


With decent fur prices at international auctions, interest in
beaver remains stable and is expected to remain good through the
2004-05 season. Longer seasons, initiated in the 1980s, have helped
to reduce populations, but lower fur prices in the future could
reverse this trend.

The state population estimate is around 80,000 animals. Since
1996, beaver populations have not shown any signs of ill health
from density-dependent wetland diseases such as botulism or

Regionally, beaver numbers in southern Wisconsin appear to be
stable to increasing while aerial surveys, conducted every three
years in northern beaver zones, indicate a stable population of
approximately 40,000 beavers in northwestern Wisconsin, known as
Zone A.

In northeastern Wisconsin (Zone B), where more intensive
management programs exist, the population has declined to around
21,000 beavers.

Along the Mississippi River, Pat Beringer, wildlife biologist in
La Crosse, reports a decline in beaver numbers.

Zone A: Oct. 23 n April 30.

Zone B: Oct. 23 n April 30.

Zone C: Nov. 6 n April 30.

Zone D (Mississippi River): Day after duck season closes to
March 15.

Bag limit: No limit.

Coyotes and foxes

Coyotes have expanded their range throughout southern and
western Wisconsin. In the remainder of the state they continue to
do well except in wolf territories, where the wolf pushes them out.
Coyotes seem to fair well in rural, urban, and suburban

“Foxes prefer a rural setting,” said Tami Ryan, DNR wildlife
supervisor from Waukesha. She said coyote numbers are steadily
increasing in the southeastern portion of the state.

Red fox numbers have increased across many areas of the north,
with mange and coyote competition impacting populations in western
and southern portions of the state. Gray fox have fewer cases of
mange and appear to be doing well in southern and central

Trapping for coyote and all fox species opens Oct. 16 north of
Hwy. 64, and Oct. 30 south of Hwy. 64.


“Factors that impact beaver have similar affects on otter,” said
Jolene Kuehn, assistant DNR furbearer specialist. “Beavers are
herbivores that prefer the inner bark of aspen, willow and
cottonwood for food. The otter prefers other animals for food, like
small fish, crayfish, or amphibians.”

The otter population is at or slightly below goals of
approximately 13,000 animals. Although a majority of the population
is found in the north, otters in central and southern Wisconsin
appear to be increasing. They are now present in many of the major
river systems of the southwest, namely the Kickapoo, Black,
Mississippi, and Wisconsin rivers and tributaries.

“The otter season is highly regulated, and provides one of the
latest opportunities to harvest wildlife,” Kuehn said. “Permit
levels will decrease slightly this year due mainly to increased
success rates and careful population management. However, a person
can expect to receive at least one permit, depending upon the
number of applicants.”

North: Dec. 4 n April 30.

Central: Dec. 4 n March 7.

South: Dec. 4 n March 7.

Bag limit: One per permit.


Strong interest in fisher by tribal and state trappers has
resulted in more applicants than permits, especially in Zone A in
northwestern Wisconsin. Permit numbers are up slightly this year,
but the number of applications received for each zone will
determine whether a trapper receives a permit, or a preference
point. In all areas, fisher health is exceptional.

There are six fisher zones. Zones A through D have the highest
populations and are located in the north. Zone E is in west-central
Wisconsin and has a growing population. In Zone E, the best
opportunities will be in Chippewa, Clark, Eau Claire, and Marathon
counties, according to John Dunn, wildlife biologist at Eau Claire.
Zone F includes the remainder of the state and will be open for
harvest in 2004 for the first time. In this zone, good
opportunities exist in southern Shawano and Oconto counties and
southeastern Marathon.

All zones: Nov. 1 n Dec. 31.

Bag Limit: One per permit


Even though Wisconsin is on the northern edge of bobcat range,
bobcat numbers are slowly increasing across the northern forest.
Conservative management efforts have allowed for a steady increase
to an estimated population of 3,000 animals with an average annual
harvest of around 220 to 250 animals.

Final permit numbers are determined in late summer when success
rates and quotas are calculated. A preference system allows the
continuous applicant a bobcat tag about every four to five

Wildlife biologists in northern and even central portions of the
state report an increase in bobcat sightings.

As with fisher and otter, bobcats must be tagged at the point of
harvest and registered with a warden.

Hunters and trappers keep the pelt, but bobcat carcasses and in
some years otter and fisher are collected from the trapper or
hunter to gather species management information such as harvest
pressure, overall age structure of the population, reproductive
age, and previous litter sizes.

In 2004, carcasses will be required from all bobcats and fishers
from zones E and F, and fisher skulls from zones A through D.

Season: Oct. 16 n Dec. 31.

Bag limit: One per permit.

Muskrat and mink

Mink and muskrat populations appear to be doing well, although
high water levels in southern areas are causing problems where high
water affects muskrat denning and kit survival.

On a statewide basis, opportunities to trap these species are
quite good, as they exist in most areas where permanent water can
be found. Season opener for muskrats is Oct. 23 in the North Zone,
Oct. 30 in the South and Winnebago zones, and the day after the
duck season closes or the second Monday in November, whichever
occurs first, in the Mississippi River Zone. For mink, the opener
is identical, with earlier closing dates in each respective

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