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Raccoon pelts pique ’08 trapping interest

Madison – Every year, one furbearer species seemingly becomes
the preseason darling of trappers. Three years ago, otters were
expected to pay $150 or more. Heading into ’06, muskrats promised
payouts of $9 or more. Last year, bobcats were forecast to be
big-money fur. This season, the hottest fur before the first trap
fires definitely is raccoons.

At international fur auctions in Canada last March, Wisconsin
raccoon pelts brought averages of $40, with the best skins fetching
even higher prices. The unexpectedly generous raccoon prices
resulted from a short supply. Early snowfall and freezing weather
across much of the northern United States reduced trapping
effort.

The spike in raccoon prices is expected to bring out a throng of
trappers – both first-timers and people who might have trapped
years ago – attempting to cash in. But then there’s the $50
question: Will raccoon prices hold up?

Here’s a species-by-species look at what awaits Wisconsin
trappers this season.

Raccoons

Although competition for raccoons will be keen among trappers
and hound hunters, the population is strong, according to John
Olson, DNR furbearer biologist.

“Raccoon numbers are very high, and people are expecting a $20
to $25 average,” he said. “That has a lot of people interested in
trapping them. We expect that this year the supply will be there
and that will probably bring the prices down.”

Because of their large size and bright color, Wisconsin raccoon
pelts are highly desired by Russian and Asian markets, said Parker
Dozhier, a longtime wild fur market analyst.

“Wisconsin trappers are in the catbird seat as far as what the
market wants,” he said. “You’re going to see some $40, $45, and $50
raccoons up there.”

Of course, prices could drop if the weather remains mild in the
northern United States and allows trappers and fur hunters to
produce more pelts. However, Dozhier expects the demand to keep
prices favorable for trappers throughout the season.

“It looks like it’s going to be awfully good,” he said.

The resident raccoon trapping and hunting season opens statewide
Oct. 18. Nonresidents can trap raccoons beginning Nov. 1. The
season runs through Feb. 15, 2009, north of Hwy. 64 and through
Jan. 31, 2009 south of Hwy. 64.

Coyotes

Wisconsin continues to have a strong population of coyotes.

“They seem to be doing well,” Olson said. “Mange and competition
with wolves has dropped the population a bit in the north. But
coyotes are resilient and can live just about anywhere. They can
adapt to most circumstances, whether it’s gray wolves or Goodyear
tires.”

Unfortunately, the market is expected to remain weak. State
coyotes are larger than most, but are not the preferred pelts as
far as color or silkiness.

“Wisconsin coyotes are heavy, which helps the value,” Dozhier
said. “You’re looking at $25 and down for them.”

The trapping season runs Oct. 18 to Feb. 15, 2009, north of Hwy.
64, and Oct. 25 to Feb. 15, 2009, south of Hwy. 64. The special
cable restraint season begins Dec. 1 – a month earlier than last
season – and closes Feb. 15, 2009.

Foxes

Wisconsin has locally abundant populations of red and gray
foxes. While red foxes are more commonly found in meadows and field
edges, gray foxes typically hang out in more dense cover.

Coyotes have driven red foxes out of some habitat, whereas gray
foxes often can endure in areas dominated by larger predators.

The fur market projection for Wisconsin foxes is mixed. Grays
are expected to bring more than reds, Dozhier said.

Gray foxes had been selling for $35 to $50 last winter, but the
prices dropped in March.

“I think it was just a hiccup in the market,” Dozhier said.
“They’re still strong.”

Red fox pelts, however, are not as strong. Wisconsin reds are
likely to bring about $20.

“I expect a replay of last season,” Dozhier said.

The season for both species runs Oct. 18 to Feb. 15, 2009, north
of Hwy. 64, and Oct. 25 to Feb. 15, 2009, south of Hwy. 64. The
cable restraint season begins Dec. 1 – a month earlier than last
season – and closes Feb. 15, 2009.

Bobcats

Wisconsin’s bobcat population is extremely healthy. Surveys
three years ago put the estimated number at 3,000 animals north of
Hwy. 64. That’s the good news. The bad news is that more trappers
and hunters are applying for fewer tags this year. After 11,670
people applied in 2007, the number of applicants rose to 12,684
this year.

“Every year, we’re setting new records with number of
applicants,” Olson said. “That’s unfortunate. We have to control
the harvest, but we’re keeping more people from the
opportunity.”

Abundant December snowfall brought about nearly perfect hunting
conditions last year. As a result, 477 bobcats were killed,
although only 50 of them were trapped. The state quota for the 2007
season was 355 bobcats.

Because the 2007 kill exceeded the quota by 122 bobcats,
managers had no choice but to drop the number of tags this year.
Only 540 permits were issued. By contrast, 1,030 were issued in
2007.

Wisconsin bobcats are expected to bring $80 to $120 this year.
However, most Wisconsin trappers and hunters do not sell the pelt.
Only 7 percent of successful bobcat permit holders sold the fur,
Olson said.

Bobcat season is Oct. 18 to Dec. 31 north of Hwy. 64, but only
open to trappers and hunters with a valid harvest permit. New this
year, trappers can use cable restraints from Dec. 1 to Dec. 31 to
take bobcats.

Fishers

Trappers and wildlife managers have noticed a shift in the range
of fishers, and no one is quite sure why it has occurred.

The highest population of fishers used to be in the
northern-most counties, but now the best numbers are closer to the
central part of the state.

“Some people are complaining they are not finding fishers like
they used to,” Olson said. “However, in that center belt of the
state, populations are really strong.”

The state is divided into six fisher zones. Trappers can apply
for tags in only one zone. Zone D, in northeast Wisconsin, had the
most permits available, with 2,640. There, all applicants received
a permit and nearly half received a second permit. By contrast,
only 41 percent of Zone E applicants drew a single tag. Overall,
13,234 applicants vied for 8,165 permits.

Fisher season is Oct. 18 to Dec. 31 in all zones.

Muskrats

Below-normal water levels in north and central Wisconsin have
caused a decline in habitat, which has led to fewer muskrats in
some areas. In addition, spring flooding displaced muskrats from
their dens and hurt reproduction in the south.

Still, muskrats can bounce back quickly, and trappers who are
willing to scout will find populations of the furballs.

After prices jumped as high as $9 a couple seasons ago, the
market stalled, causing a backlog of pelts. The surplus has
cleared, and Wisconsin trappers can expect $3.50 to $4 averages for
fall muskrats, Dozhier said. Prices are expected to creep higher
later in the season.

The season runs Oct. 18 to Feb. 28, 2009, in the Northern Zone,
Oct. 25 to Feb. 28, 2009, in the Southern Zone, Oct. 25 to March
15, 2009, in the Winnebago Zone, and Nov. 10 to Feb. 28, 2009, in
the Mississippi River Zone.

Mink

Wild mink also are affected by the wet-dry cycles. As a result,
the mink population is down.

Mink were once a staple of the wild fur market, and Wisconsin’s
pelts were desirable. A fair market remains, but prices have been
flat for several seasons. To catch a large number of mink, trappers
must travel many miles. Considering current fuel prices, most
trappers will not run long traplines for mink, Dozhier said.

Male mink should top out at $20, with female mink bringing $12
or less.

Mink season runs Oct. 18 to Feb. 28, 2009, in the Northern Zone,
Oct. 25 to Feb 28, 2009, in the Southern Zone, Oct. 25 to March 15,
2009, in the Winnebago Zone, and Nov. 10 to Feb. 28, 2009, in the
Mississippi River Zone.

Beavers

In a 2005 survey, beavers were estimated at 87,000 statewide.
That was deemed to be too high, so the DNR sought to decrease the
population.

Combined with dry conditions, reduction efforts appear to have
succeeded. Despite lower numbers, beavers remain abundant, Olson
said. About 75 percent of the state’s beavers live in the northern
portion of Wisconsin, because the north has more waterways.

Wisconsin pelts averaged $21 to $22 last season, and similar
prices are expected, Dozhier said. Blanket-sized beavers with good
color brought $40 for many trappers last season.

However, beaver prices might not hold up as well as other furs
this season because most of the garments and products made with
beaver fur are sold in North America. Given the current financial
picture of the United States, that could spell sluggish sales.

“For fur retailers, it’s the winter of our uncertainty in North
America,” Dozhier said.

The season runs Nov. 1 to April 30, 2009, north of Hwy. 64.
South of Hwy. 64, beaver season is Nov. 1 to March 31, 2009, except
for Zone D along the Mississippi River, where the season is Dec. 8
to March 15, 2009.

Otters

If you are holding an otter permit for this season, consider
yourself among the fortunate few. Only 2,410 were issued among the
13,472 applicants. Last season, the DNR issued 4,625 permits. Just
a few seasons ago, the number of permits was higher than the number
of trappers applying for them.

“We noticed four years ago a significant drop in reproductive
rates among younger females,” Olson said. “Reproductive rates
continue to be very low. We had to react to that.”

Dry conditions and a decrease in the beaver population meant
less pup-rearing habitat, he said.

“Otters and beavers are tied to each other,” Olson said. “With
the decrease we’ve caused to the beaver population, we’ve reduced
good otter habitat.”

Still, an estimated 13,000 otters live in Wisconsin. Numbers are
thought to be increasing in central and southern regions. The
market for otter pelts crashed two years ago when China imposed new
trade restrictions.

Otter season runs Nov. 1 to April 30, 2009, north of Hwy. 64,
and Nov. 1 to March 31, 2009, south of Hwy. 64.

Other furbearers

Weasels, skunks and opossums can be trapped and have value on
the fur market.

“Weasels present a somewhat overlooked opportunity to extend the
season,” Olson said. “The fur value has been running $7 to $9,
which is pretty high.”

Weasels molt and turn white in late November. Until then, they
have little market value. Skunks, which are usually taken
incidental to fox, coyote and raccoon trapping, have returned $5 to
$8 in recent years.

Opossums are seldom targeted, but often caught. The largest and
best-furred might be worth a few dollars this year.

All three are unprotected and can be trapped year-round.

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