Time to check for damage and search for trappers to deal with fur bearers

Ohio fur trapping season is around the corner. The season begins Nov. 10 and runs until Jan. 31, 2013, except for otters and beavers — that season starts Dec. 26 and ends Feb. 28.

Now is the time to get out and scout for damage from those pesky little fur bearers. If you’re a farmer and have had problems with furbearers in your livestock or crops this past spring and summer, now is the time to think about contacting the local trapper to make sure he is coming.

Keep searching

If for some reason he is not going to be able to help you this season, it’s time to look for another willing trapper to take his place. For a lot of you, walking and searching for these critters or damage is not top priority, but it should be.

Over the past 15 years, I have had several calls from individuals who found damage after trapping season has just ended. It is harder to help these individuals with this type of problem during the closed season.

To solve damage problems in the closed season, individuals have to get a letter permit from their local state wildlife officer or wildlife specialist. Most of the time, these problem could have been dealt with during the open season.

So if you’re a property owner or have had problems in the past with furbearers, get out there and do some scouting. If you find damage from furbearers, contact your local trapper.

Search for trappers

If you don’t know any local trappers, you can contact your local soil and water conservation district, state wildlife officer, or go to www.ohiostatetrapper.org and click on nuisance trappers. This is a list of trappers by county who trap beaver, otter, and coyotes. Generally, whoever traps beaver, otters and coyotes will trap other furbearers.

Beaver damage

There are several things to look for when looking for problems associated with beavers. Some of them include trees larger than 1 inch in diameter cut off at angles, dams made out of mud and sticks across the stream causing water to be backed up in the creek.

In your pond, you will have mud and sticks pushed up around the spillway pipe. I have seen the spillway pipe so plugged with debris that water is over top the pipe, and then the beavers build a dam in the emergency spillway.

There will be a lodge (beaver’s house) along the side of stream or pond’s edge made up of a big pile of sticks and mud. Beavers will also live in bank dens. These are holes dug into the banks of ponds and streams.

In the months ahead, beavers will have a bunch of fresh cut trees and branches piled out in the water in front of their lodge or bank den. This material was cut this past fall or early winter and is located there so the beavers don’t have to travel far for food in cold weather.

Muskrats

Muskrats do similar things as beavers, but on a smaller scale. Usually, smaller trees are cut at the same angle by muskrats.

A muskrat’s primary food source is cattails. If you have cattails, you will eventually have muskrats. They love to eat the roots of cattails.

Muskrats do not usually build dams. They prefer an area that already has an existing pool of water like beaver ponds, streams, and farm ponds.

Muskrats are known to plug spillway pipes in ponds with cattails. Muskrats build lodges from mainly cattails and a little mud. Muskrats will also have bank dens just like the beaver but on a smaller scale.

If you walk around your pond, you will notice what trappers refer to as runs. This is where the water is discolored (muddy looking) and where the muskrats are going in and out of their bank dens.

Beavers will have the same, but on a much larger scale. Muskrats and beavers like to crawl up under docks or piers. They use these areas for feeding or loafing.

On the river front, I have witnessed where beavers were chewing holes in the floatation devices used to hold docks up out of the water.

I have also seen where beavers have chewed through 1-inch plastic gas lines. I have talked to people who have had their aeration system hoses chewed on by beavers and muskrats.

Remember, you are dealing with two species that are members of the rodent family. They love to chew on something hard to keep their teeth from continuously growing. This is why it is important to control them on your property by trapping during the open season.

Otters

Otter damage is nothing similar to muskrat and beaver damage. About the only thing otters have in common with muskrats and beavers are that they all like to make dens by digging in stream banks and pond dams. I have only seen one case of where otters dug bank dens into a dike of a wetland. Otters usually occupy old abandoned beaver lodges and bank dens.

Otters are professionals in killing fish, crayfish, frogs, ducks and even muskrats. A pair of otters can clean out a farm pond in no time. Some things you will notice when observing otter damage around your pond are, dead fish remains, latrines, and wallows.

Don’t always suspect otters as soon as you see dead fish floating. There are a number of other reasons fish could be floating dead on top of your pond.

Begin to look for latrines. Otters are notorious for using the bathroom in the same spots. These areas will have an assortment of crayfish parts and fish scales. There will be dead spots in the grass from urination at these locations.

In the spring and summer, these areas will be a lush dark green because of the high nutrient levels that were deposited here from the otters. These areas will usually be located from a good observation point over looking a stream or pond.

The last thing to look for is wallows. Otters will find a sandy place or an area next to the water with lots of leaves. The otters roll in these areas and use the sand and leaves to dry themselves off. You may also notice a little scat and some vomit that is fishy smelling in these areas.

Get out there

Hopefully, these are some helpful hints of what to look for when scouting your property this fall and winter for furbearers.

With the holidays approaching and all of those Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers you’re going to eat, it might not hurt to get out and shed some of those extra pounds. Who knows! You might find those sheds from that deer you were chasing last year, or that hole in that fence that needs repaired.

About the Author

Dave Schott has been employed with the SWCD since March of 1998 and is currently the Technician and Forest/Wildlife Specialist for the Monroe SWCD in Woodsfield, Ohio. More Stories by Dave Schott

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