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Missouri wildlife populations are increasing. State officials could soon allow more hunting

 Among the groups advocating for the change in regulations are turkey hunters, concerned that an increase in predator populations might be contributing to declines in chick survival.
Missouri Department of Conservation
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Among the groups advocating for the change in regulations are turkey hunters, concerned that an increase in predator populations might be contributing to declines in chick survival.

Missouri state officials are considering whether to extend the harvest seasons for eight wildlife species.

Missouri state officials are considering a proposal that would extend the hunting seasons for species historically harvested for their fur, such as bobcats, possums and raccoons.

Interest in fur trapping has taken a nosedive in recent decades, allowing some populations to flourish — and opening the door to additional hunting, state wildlife biologists say. The Missouri Conservation Commission this month gave initial approval to a plan that would modify current state regulations and expand the harvest period by more than three months for some species.

The new proposal from the Department of Conservation would extend the harvest seasons for eight furbearer species: raccoons, possums, coyotes, mink, muskrats, river otters, bobcats and striped skunk.

The fur harvest peaked in Missouri around 1940, when hunters collected nearly 835,000 animal pelts. About 70% of the animals killed that season were possums and raccoons, according to state data.

During the 2019-20 season, Missouri hunters sold or registered about 41,000 fur pelts.

Over the years, hunter interest has largely followed the rise and fall of the fur market, said Laura Conlee, MDC terrestrial section chief and wildlife biologist. “When the market is low and pelts are of lower value, harvest tends to be low as well,” she said.

International demand for fur has plummeted in recent years, along with the average price per pelt for nearly every species harvested in Missouri.

With reduced hunting and trapping pressure, Conlee said, some wildlife populations have remained stable or been able to grow, including coyotes and raccoons.

For most species, the season length would increase by no more than one month. But for raccoons and possums, the overall yearly harvest period would be 3½ months longer, compared to current regulations.

The proposal does not modify harvest regulations for certain threatened or declining populations, including gray fox, red fox and the rare spotted skunk.

Among those advocating for the change in regulations are turkey hunters, concerned that an increase in predator populations might be contributing to declines in chick survival.

At a Missouri Conservation Commission meeting on Dec. 10, Commissioner Steven Harrison said he was disappointed that the proposed regulations would not go into effect until June 2022 — shortly after the turkey nesting season.

“A lot of people are anxious to do something because of the turkey nesting,” Harrison said.

Still, the causes of the turkey population decline in Missouri are complex, and removing some predators from the landscape may not have a large effect, Conlee warned.

“There is the possibility that if somebody engages in trapping during the proposed extended season, with the hope of making an impact on turkeys, they may see some small-scale changes,” she said. “But this is not something that's going to make large changes.”

Regardless of whether the hunting and trapping regulations change, Conlee said wildlife managers and biologists will continue to do their best to ensure the “health and stability” of statewide furbearer populations.

The public comment period runs from Jan. 19 to Feb. 17.

Proposed MDC harvest season changes:

Bobcat 

Current: Nov. 15 to Jan. 31

Proposed: Nov. 15 to the last day of February

Coyote

Current: All year, except daylight hours from April 1 to April 18

Proposed: March 1 to April 14 (trapping on private land only) and Nov. 15 to the last day of February

Raccoon 

Current: Nov. 15 to Jan. 31

Proposed: March 1 to April 14 (trapping on private land only), Aug. 1 to Oct. 15 and Nov. 15 to the last day of February

Possum 

Current: Nov. 15 to Jan. 31

Proposed: March 1 to April 14 (trapping on private land only), Aug. 1 to Oct. 15. and Nov. 15 to the last day of February

Striped skunk

Current: Nov. 15 to Jan. 31

Proposed: March 1 to April 14 (trapping on private land only) and Nov. 15 to the last day of February

Mink

Current: Nov. 15 to Jan. 31

Proposed: Nov. 15 to the last day of February (trapping only)

Muskrat

Current: Nov. 15 to Feb. 20

Proposed: Nov. 15 to the last day of February (trapping only)

River otter

Current: Nov. 15 to Feb. 20

Proposed: Nov. 15 to the last day of February (trapping only)

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

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