No rebound: Marten, fisher season tightened across the north country

Grand Rapids, Minn. — Further shortening of the season wasn’t a feasible option, DNR officials say, so instead they’ve opted to further reduce the allowed take of martens and fishers, northern furbearers whose numbers the department would like to see increase.

John Erb, DNR furbearer specialist in Grand Rapids, said the allowed take per season, per licensed trapper this fall will be either two fishers, two martens, or one of each. Last year, trappers were allowed a total of five of the two in combination, with only two fishers allowed to be part of that combo platter.

A six-day season is again on tap. Last year marked a cut in the number of trapping days available for the two species; since 2007, it had been a nine-day season. Before that it was a 16-day event.

“This year, we decided to scale back even more, but you can’t really scale back any more from six (days),” Erb said. “The biggest change, and a notable change, is for marten.” Fisher harvest, because only two could be taken last year, won’t be affected as much.

Erb said DNR officials broke the news to trapping groups earlier this year, after harvest and other data had been analyzed. Reaction was mixed, but while not happy with the further tightening of marten- and fisher-trapping rules, most trappers weren’t surprised.

While unhappy that further changes were ahead, “there was not a lot of argument (from trapping groups),” he said.

Erb said there were a number of factors that contributed to the changes ahead for this fall’s marten- and fisher-trapping season.

Among them was last year’s 42-percent decline in marten harvest; Erb says to keep in mind that the season was reduced 33 percent. He said trappers also observed fewer martens when they were afield last season. The harvest of martens by state-licensed trappers last year was just under 1,500; fisher harvest was around 1,300, not including tribal take.

The harvest decline and reduction in trapper observations was corroborated by DNR live-trapping of both martens and fishers this winter, which included declines in the catch of both, but the “worst-ever” catch of martens.

There was little statistical change in estimated fisher and marten populations in the DNR’s winter furbearer track survey – but there was no increase, Erb said.

“We didn’t see any kind of rebound (that was hoped for following the abbreviated trapping season),” he said. “That’s what we’d hoped to see, but we didn’t.”

The DNR also this winter studied age and sex information from the wrapped-up trapping season. The results of those efforts weren’t particularly satisfying, either.

“In general, we like to see a higher number of juveniles per adult female,” Erb said. That indicates harvest is “eating into” the all-important adult female population, and perhaps that fewer juveniles are available to catch.

The 2013 trapping season might see enhanced trapping pressure similar to last year, Erb suggests. That’s because fur prices overall remain high, and that high price typically brings more trappers into the fold. Erb said trapper numbers (license holders) now range around 10,000.

“We’re anticipating continuing high interest (in trapping this season),” Erb said.

Regarding population trends, Erb says fisher numbers continue to increase on the south and west fringes of its range, and they remain stable in the far northeast. But in their northern core range, it appears numbers are dropping.

The marten range is probably about half that of the fisher, but martens more densely populate their core area.

“I’d project that we have more martens than fishers,” Erb said.

He says while the department is attempting to reduce harvest of the two species, it’s probable that trapping isn’t the only factor in dropping fisher and marten numbers. Habitat needs probably aren’t being met in some areas, he said, and more bobcats in some places likely are putting the squeeze on (and killing) fishers. Why bobcats are doing well – while fishers and martens continue to struggle – is yet another question to consider.

Erb said officials would like to see a quick bounce-back of both furbearers, rather than a slow revival, thus changes to trapping rules now rather than later.

This year’s fisher and marten season will run Nov. 30 through Dec. 5.

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