‘No Different Than Friggin’ Grizzly Bears’: Rancher Wants To Trap Wyoming Otters

Following a vicious attack by otters in Montana that left a woman hospitalized, it’s time to start trapping otters in Wyoming, a rancher said. But the Game and Fish Department isn’t ready for an otter season.

Mark Heinz

August 08, 20235 min read

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Wyoming has too many otters, and it’s time to start trapping them, a Sublette County rancher told Cowboy State Daily.

However, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is still taking a wait-and-see approach to whether otters may be hunted and trapped here, as they are in some neighboring states.

For now, otters remain a protected species in Wyoming.

‘They’re Not Afraid Of Humans’

Tim Thompson, who owns a ranch about 11 miles west of Big Piney, said he’s trapped since he was a child and would like to be able to trap otters on his property.

After otters attacked three women on the Jefferson River in Montana last week, sending one of them to the hospital with ghastly bite wound to her face, arms and body, Thompson said he’s even more convinced Wyoming should allow otter trapping.

“They’re getting aggressive, they’re not afraid of humans. It’s no different than the friggn’ grizzly bears. The grizzly bears are fine when they’re up in the trees and eating the winter kill (big game carcasses), but when they get down around houses and campgrounds, there needs to be some control,” Thompson said.

It should be likewise for otters, which are getting increasingly common in Sublette County, he said.

‘I Don’t Care How Cute It Is’

Thompson isn’t the only Sublette County resident who has told Cowboy State Daily that otter control is needed. Mike Schmid of La Barge recently voiced similar concerns.

He cited an otter attack several years ago on some boys floating on inner tubes down a river near La Barge, a situation that mirrored the circumstances of the Montana attack.

“About 10 to 12 years ago, some young boys were floating on the river near here and got attacked by otters. They were darn sure chewed up pretty badly. They required a lot of stiches,” said Schmid, who is a former member of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.

Thompson said he also remembers the La Barge otter attack well.

“Those kids got the shit chewed out of them,” he said.

He said he didn’t realize how bad the Montana attack was until the primary victim, Jen Royce of Bozeman, Montana, put up a Facebook post that included graphic photos of her wounds taken in a hospital in the aftermath of the attack.

A request for comment from Royce from Cowboy State Daily went unanswered.

The attacks, as well as the apparently growing numbers of otters, are reason to remove protection for them in Wyoming, Thompson said.

“People say how cute an otter is. I don’t care how cute it is, a lot of things are cute,” he said. “But they need to be taken off the protected list, and listed as furbearers that can be trapped.”

‘Limited Monitoring’

Otters remain a protected species in Wyoming and may not be trapped or hunted here because their population is still too sparce, according to the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish.

Otters aren’t federally protected. Limited trapping of otters is allowed in Montana, as well as in Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas and numerous other states.

For now, Wyoming Game and Fish does some tracking of otters’ distribution around the state, agency spokeswoman Breanna Ball told Cowboy State Daily.

“Game and Fish does limited monitoring of otters. This includes updating their range and distribution maps based on submitted observations by staff and the public,” she said.

Though trappers aren’t allowed to kill otters, they are encouraged to report seeing them to help Game and Fish better ascertain their population and range in Wyoming. That’s according to the agency’s current furbearing animal hunting or trapping regulations.

“Trappers often visit more remote locations than other recreationists, and your sightings can help Game and Fish manage wildlife populations, including those not classified as furbearers,” the regulations state.

Some other species that Wyoming trappers are encouraged to look for and report include spotted skunks, wolverines and swift foxes.

‘You Hear A Growl Or A Hiss’

Thompson and Schmid said they can remember a time when otters were rarely, if ever, seen in Sublette County, but now they’re becoming a common sight.

“I was raised on this ranch, and I never saw an otter on the property until about 10 years ago,” Thompson said.

Now while walking along creeks on the ranch, it’s not unusual to encounter otters, which sometimes have nasty dispositions, he said.

“It’s nothing to be walking along the creek, and you hear a growl or a hiss. We haven’t been attacked yet, but we’ve damn sure seen some aggressive behavior from them,” Thompson said.

Schmid previously told Cowboy State Daily that his brother tried stocking a pond on his property with trout, but otters devoured the fish.

Thompson said he’s heard similar stories.

In several places where fish are being stocked, “The next thing they see is these otters coming up like it’s a dinner bell,” he said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter