IDNR to count local wildlife March 21

IDNR to count local wildlife March 21

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Each spring, staff from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources use spotlights to count wildlife while driving slowly along 25-mile routes located in about half the state’s counties. The surveys begin in March 21 in southern Illinois and will be wrapped up by April 25 in the northernmost counties.

Kent Boyles, a wildlife biologist for IDNR, will be lighting up the back roads in Macoupin County as part of the effort. He explained that the counts help track changes in the raccoon population, but deer, opossums, skunks and rabbits are also tallied. All counts will take place while driving on public roads.

“Experience shows that wildlife tend to be more active and easier to locate when the temperature’s above freezing, the relative humidity is high and the trees haven’t leafed out yet,” said Boyles. Routes are phased in as the surveyors move northward to account for differences in spring-like conditions.

This marks the 36th year of the survey. Results suggest that the statewide raccoon population nearly doubled from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. Numbers retreated about 20 percent by 2000 and were stable afterward. DNR officials believe that low harvest levels contributed to the jump in raccoon numbers during the 1990s. Hunters and trappers took more than 300,000 raccoons per year during the early 80s, when pelts sold for an average of about $20. More recently, they took less than half as many, a reflection of average values of $5-7 per pelt.

Problems with crop damage and diseases tend to increase as raccoons become more abundant. “We hope that fur markets improve this year,” said Boyles. “Under the right conditions, regulated hunting and trapping can be important tools for maintaining a healthy balance between the needs of wildlife and people.”