Otters Return to Indiana
August 1, 2010
After many decades of extinction, river otters have returned to the state of Indiana. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources re-introduced otters beginning 15 years ago in hopes to re-establish the species. About 300 individuals were introduced, and otters are now found in over 70 counties throughout the state.
“We started by releasing 25 otters at the Muscatuck National Wildlife Refuge (near Seymour) early in 1995,” said Scott Johnson, a Nongame Mammalogist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “A total of 303 were released at a variety of watershed areas around Indiana over a five-year period.”
The otters used in the Indiana reintroduction were wild and caught in Louisiana by cooperative trappers. Since the reintroduction began, river otters now are found in more than 70 counties, including Lake and Porter.
“This has been a tremendous success,” Johnson said. “We kind of expected it though. Other states had already completed reintroduction programs, and we followed their strategies. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with otters.
In recent years, populations of river otters have been expanding throughout the United States. I’ve covered several articles about otter population comebacks, with the most recent stories coming from Texas, Missouri and West Virginia. The pattern is similar across all of these states. Otter numbers were historically depleted during periods of heavy hunting, trapping and expanding development. Otter populations are likely more susceptible to overharvest and habitat alterations than other furbearing species. There are other potential reasons for this decline that I’ve heard from other trappers, but most of the biologists seem to believe that unregulated harvest played a large role.
As Indiana DNR’s Scott Johnson noted:
“Unregulated trapping and hunting was the main reason otters disappeared,” Johnson said. “Back then there was no Department of Natural Resources. There were no limits, regulations or laws. It was a trapping and hunting free-for-all. This combined with a loss of habitat to farmland and subdivisions led to the otter’s demise in Indiana. They succumbed to the pressure.
With the advent of regulated trapping in its current form and more targeted wildlife management, otter numbers started to come back. Many states that completely lost otters in most areas started programs to re-introduce the species. This new wildlife management strategy has proven extremely successful. I suspect we’ll continue to see stories that relay the successful recover of otter populations in other states. Hopefully we’ll see future controlled trapping seasons in places where otter populations have recovered and can be responsibly harvested.