The river otter is “a sacred species for us as Lakota people," says Grandmother Carla Rae Marshall. Photo: Jon Nelson

Native Sun News Today: Comments due on trapping otters

PIERRE – The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission is giving the public until June 19 to comment on a draft management plan that would open the first-ever trapping season for the rare native river otter that was reintroduced to the state by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

The state governor’s appointed wildlife commissioners recently dropped Lontra canadensis from South Dakota’s list of protected species, dismissing public comment that was all in favor of keeping safeguards established by its 1978 inclusion in the state’s first endangered and threatened list.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe repopulated this playful semi-aquatic mammal to reservation jurisdiction in South Dakota in 1998-2000. Prized for its pelts, the once-abundant population had vanished due to unregulated take and habitat degradation during the early 20th Century.

Inquiries to the Santee tribe’s wildlife agency and to game officials of several other Sioux tribes in South Dakota failed to raise responses. However, Lower Brule Sioux Tribal Department of Wildlife, Fish and Recreation Biologist Shaun Grassel said the state commissioners and their staff apparently have not consulted his tribe on the matter.

“I am not aware that we (the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) have been contacted” by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) regarding state proposals to delist and allow trapping “or to inquire about how their actions might affect our current or future objectives regarding river otters. But that's not surprising,” he told the Native Sun News Today.

The otter figures prominently in a Lakota creation narrative preserved by the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center: It is one of four creatures who restored the land after a great flood.

In Nakota oral tradition, the otter earned a hardy winter coat as thanks from a crane whose chick it sheltered from the cold when it hatched too late in the season to migrate south for warmth.

Lakota akicita societies historically have been honored to include otter fur in their regalia.

During the state’s May 7 hearings on otter delisting and trapping, Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member and Grandmother Carla Rae Marshall testified on her opposition to delisting and trapping this year.

“Historically, river otters were, and still are, a sacred species for us as Lakota people, as well as for many indigenous nations in North America. In the annals of Societies of the Plains Indians, the river otter is shown to be held in the highest esteem, with more than 40 references found throughout the documentation,” she said.

Also testifying, Rapid City resident Susan Braunstein thanked the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe for releasing 34 river otters along the Big Sioux River on tribal grounds in Moody County as part of a cultural goal to restore a native species to tribal lands.”

She asked: “Why should this beautiful, playful creature die when so much effort has been made to bring them back? Don’t we have enough animals that are being trapped or killed? Why should trappers have this much influence over GFP policies?”

She noted that the < ahref=https://gfp.sd.gov/management-plans/>management plan is “specifically geared to give trappers another species to kill so they can profit from their skin.”

Expert analysis performed for the GFP by Wayne E. Melquist, Ph.D. supports reintroduction in the Little White River at Crazy Horse Canyon on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, among other Western South Dakota locations that provide favorable habitat due to open water year-round.

Written comments on the plan can be sent to 523 E. Capitol Ave., Pierre, S.D. 57501, or emailed to OtterPlan@state.sd.us Comments must be received by June 19 and include your full name and city of residence.

Following the same rules, individuals also can provide written comments on the proposal by filling out an online form and selected "River Otter Season" in the drop-down box.

NATIVE SUN NEWS TODAY

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Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com

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