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MIKE BRAUN Experts say otters ought to be taken off list



Published: Sun, January 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The past 16 years have been good to lutra canadensis in Ohio.

So good, in fact, that the state has been asked to take it off the endangered species list. Lutra canadensis is, quite simply, the North American river otter, a sleek, furry, naturally playful critter that Ohio wildlife biologists helped to reintroduce to the Buckeye State during a six-year program that ended in 1993.

What's proposed: In a proposal to the Ohio Wildlife Council last week for the 2002-2003 hunting season, expert biologists from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife proposed the animal's removal from the list of endangered animals, citing the otter population's healthy and growing status.

"It's great to once again have otters a part of the Ohio landscape," said Mike Budzik, chief of ODNR's Division of Wildlife. "Thanks to reintroduction efforts that began in 1986, otters have made a strong comeback in the Buckeye State."

A vote on the proposal to remove otters from the endangered species will be made by the Wildlife Council on April 10.

Ohio used to be a natural breeding ground for the up to 4-foot-long water-loving mammals. The native-Ohio furbearers were common throughout the state at one time until declining water quality, stream pollution and deforestation during the late 1800s and early 1900s became a factor in their disappearance from the state.

Why it got better: The advent of efforts to clean up the state's waters and improvements in related habitat were the key ingredients in the otter's survival and increase in numbers after the reintroduction program began.

During that program, Ohio acquired otters from breeders in Arkansas and Louisiana, often trading other animals such as wild turkey for the furbearers. They are now found in 52 of Ohio's 88 counties and they are known to be reproducing in at least 10 watersheds.

Where released: During the program, more than 120 were released in four eastern Ohio watersheds: the Grand River (Trumbull and Ashtabula counties), Killbuck Creek (Wayne and Holmes counties), Stillwater Creek (Harrison County), and the Little Muskingum River (Washington County).

"Documentation played a critical role in the successful reintroduction of otters to our state," said Chris Dwyer, river otter project manager. "Today, we can conservatively estimate Ohio's otter population is now at least 2,100 animals."

There is also an ongoing radio telemetry study that will provide further information on the numbers of otters, and their locations throughout Ohio, Dwyer said.

A great deal of the state's information has come from Ohio's trappers. "Trappers see signs such as tracks, and observe the animals when they are out trapping, since otters and beavers use the same habitats. Ohio's trappers have been very diligent in reporting their otter observations," Dwyer said.

There have been similar programs conducted in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, and several otters have been reported in Ohio near the Ohio-Indiana border.

The otter is just one of a number of animals successfully reintroduced into the state after having been all but wiped out earlier. Others include the wood duck, bald eagle, wild turkey and the white-tailed deer.

braun@vindy.com




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