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Responsibly Managing River Otters

River otters are expanding in Indiana and now live in most of their historic range.

River otters were absent from the Indiana landscape for more than 50 years before the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began releasing otters into areas of the state in 1995.

Over a five-year period, more than 300 otters were transported from Louisiana and released at 12 sites in northern and southern Indiana. The program was so successful that river otters were removed from the state’s endangered species list in 2005. They now occur in 74 of Indiana’s 92 counties.

The river otter is a true success story for wildlife conservation. However, the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) knows that as river otter numbers rise, so does their impact.

“River otters are an important part of our natural environment, but as their numbers increase, so do conflicts with private pond owners and other fishery related interests,” said Shawn Rossler, furbearer specialist with the Division of Fish & Wildlife.

In areas where fish are concentrated, such as a privately stocked pond, river otters can reduce the number of fish, causing recreational and economic losses.

In 2013, DFW district wildlife biologists received 86 complaints on river otters eating fish out of private ponds and commercial fish hatcheries or destroying private property. That’s up from 69 complaints in 2012. The number of control permits that were issued or renewed nearly doubled, from 11 in 2012 to 21 in 2013.

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.

“We need to find balance to keep otter populations healthy while preventing conflicts with landowners and private fishery interests,” Rossler said. “A closely managed, highly regulated trapping season is the best option to bring the needs of the public in balance with wildlife.”

The DFW has looked into various options and reviewed current research and has determined a limited harvest will not negatively impact the state’s otter population.

Earlier this year, the DFW proposed an otter trapping season as part of its biennial administrative rule making process.

The proposal is still under review by the Natural Resources Commission. If approved, the earliest a river otter trapping season would occur is 2015-16.

The proposed regulations identify when, where, and how otters can be trapped; limit the number of otters harvested; and require mandatory registration and check-in harvested otter.

Indiana would not be the first state to follow its river otter reintroduction efforts with a limited trapping season. Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and West Virginia have done so and still have thriving river otter populations.

For almost 20 years, the DFW has worked closely with Hoosier trappers to collect biological data that show otter expansion throughout the state. A regulated season will allow more data on river otters to be collected while also allowing trapping and fur selling opportunities.

“Trappers throughout the state have a deep appreciation for all wildlife, especially otter,” Rossler said. “We’ll continue to work collectively with trappers to ensure responsible management of river otter for years to come.”

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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