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Tracking River Otters

Hunting Regulations Icon New York Hunting

River otters have historically been found throughout New York. In the early 1900s, populations began to decline due to unregulated harvest, habitat destruction, and water pollution. In 1936, otters became legally protected and the trapping season was closed. Conservation Department (DEC’s predecessor) staff assessed the abundance and distribution of otters, and after almost a decade, a stricter trapping season was reopened. While otter populations stabilized in the eastern half of New York, western regions appeared devoid of substantial otter populations.

During the late 1990s, in an attempt to restore historical populations, 279 otters were captured in the Catskill, Adirondack, and Hudson Valley areas and released at 16 sites across central and western New York. Observations from DEC staff, hunters, trappers, and other outdoor enthusiasts indicate that restoration attempts were successful.

To verify these observations, DEC partnered with SUNY ESF to assess the current status of otters and to develop a harvest-independent technique to monitor changes in otter populations. During the 2017 and 2018 winter field seasons staff searched for otter sign (tracks, scat, etc.) along designated transects at bridge crossings. In the 2017 season alone, staff surveyed 962 sites and about 239 miles of shoreline across the state!

This survey, along with data provided by trappers and wildlife watchers, will inform the development of a management plan for otters in New York. Highly valued by trappers as a furbearing species and a favorite amongst wildlife watchers, otters must be carefully managed to ensure sustainable populations for future generations. If you see an otter, we want to hear about it! Please report your sighting on DEC’s Furbearer Sighting Survey page at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/30770.html.

Figure courtesy of Dr. Jacqueline Frair, SUNY ESF

Report Your Furbearer Sightings!

DEC wants to learn more about the occurrence of various furbearers throughout New York such as bobcat, otter, fisher, and weasel. Your observations help biologists understand the distribution and abundance of these elusive or inconspicuous mammals.

You can report you observations online, and can even include photos!

Go to www.dec.ny.gov/animals/30770.html or e-mail us at wildlife@dec.ny.gov

Thanks for your help!