SALMON, Idaho (Reuters Life!) - Overzealous antler gatherers face a new flurry of regulation by U.S. Western states trying to stop harassment of deer and elk during critical, food-scarce months.
Hard times have boosted the number of people hoping to cash in on antlers -- technically bones, not horns -- that can fetch as much as $18 per pound ($39.60 per kg) and are used to produce everything from furniture to health tonics in Asia.
But wildlife officials say the practice, extremely popular in Wyoming, Montana and other Western states, threatens wildlife, especially in the winter months.
"It has the effect of harassment on animals when they need all their energy just to survive," said Anis Aoude, big game program coordinator at Utah's division of wildlife resources.
Utah's bids to curb antler enthusiasts failed due to public opposition, but Montana this year passed a law that threatens to strip hunting and fishing rights from trespassers, including antler gatherers, on state wildlife management areas.
Mike Korn, assistant chief of law enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the law was needed to deter harassment by antler gatherers, whom he said gathered in droves in early spring.
"It's like the Oklahoma land rush," he said. "One second after midnight on the day areas are opening up, you've got people with flashlights, charging around in the dark." He said some even yell at deer, hoping to scare off their antlers.
In Wyoming, a ban on antler gathering on a portion of public land during winter and early spring is poised to go into effect in January 2010.
But the restrictions on gathering the trophies have angered some antler gatherers.
"There's only so much out there - and we have to be able to get at them," said Richard Carpenter of Salmon, Idaho, who makes his living from antler products, marketing carvings and buttons featuring folk-art figures that can sell for as much as $300 on eBay.
(For more environmental news see our Environment blog at blogs.reuters.com/environment)
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Idaho; Editing by Paul Simao