Baldwin’s Bounty Hunters

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(MPR photo/Chris Welsch)

On the first Monday of each month, Baldwin Township clerk and treasurer Cathy Stevens shows up for work an hour early in order to partake in an age-old tradition. She opens the doors to the town hall and collects and counts severed gopher feet, paying bearers $2 per pair of front paws. “It’s the fresh ones I don’t like,” she says. “They are still bleeding.”

This is not Stevens’ favorite part of her job. “I’m such an animal lover,” she says, “I even take ladybugs and throw them outside.” In order to reap the bounty, which was raised from $1.50 in December, the feet must be attached in pairs to a piece of cardboard. “That’s so they are easy to count,” says Stevens. “So it’s not just someone dumping out a peanut butter jar.”

The practice, which is authorized by the state, dates back to when Baldwin was more rural, when gopher holes tripped up livestock and farm equipment. Today, it serves as a source of much-needed income for some residents. The town paid out a total of $1,293 in 2009, according to Stevens. “There are times when there are so many that come in I have to give somebody a 1099, which means they made over $600.”

After the feet are counted, Stevens says she puts them in a plastic bag and stores them in the garage, in case there is a discrepancy. Then she throws them away. “It used to be the old farmers who would come in,” she says. “Now it’s a variety of people. More parents are teaching their kids how to trap. It’s a way for kids to make money.”