Hoosiers now have a good chance of seeing river otters in many Indiana watersheds, a memory that will last a lifetime.
Officially considered extirpated from Indiana by 1942, river otters were absent from the landscape for more than 50 years. Then in 1995, wildlife officials began releasing otters into key areas of the state.
Over a five-year period, 303 otters were transported from Louisiana and released at 12 sites in northern and southern Indiana. The reintroduction was so successful that by 2005, otters were removed from the state’s endangered species list.
Otters have moved into central Indiana, where the habitat wasn’t considered ideal for the species. But otters found suitable areas there to live, according to Scott Johnson, nongame biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources
River otters now occupy more than 80 percent of Indiana counties, Johnson said.
“It’s now been seven years since delisting, and all our information indicates the otter population continues to expand,” Johnson said.
Work to improve water quality in the state has benefited the river otter, whose diet consists primarily of fish, but also includes mussels, crayfish, reptiles and amphibians.
State wildlife managers are aware that conflicts can arise from higher otter numbers, especially with private pond owners who are sometimes surprised by the rate at which the animals can eat fish.
“One pond owner may enjoy watching otters, while a different landowner may find them to be a nuisance and is upset by the loss of fish in his pond,” said DNR furbearer biologist Shawn Rossler.
Last year, District Wildlife Biologists received 34 complaints on river otters eating fish out of private ponds and commercial fish hatcheries or destroying private property. As of early spring, wildlife managers had issued 10 control permits to resolve otter complaints in 2012.
As the otter population grows, wildlife managers must find balance to keep populations healthy while preventing conflicts with landowners. Finding balance isn’t always easy, but it’s needed to ensure the continued success and acceptance of river otters in Indiana.
For more information, visit IN.gov and search “river otter”.