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River otter back home in Indiana

Northern river otters such as this have been spotted living waterways throughout Lake County. | PhoProvided~Sun-Times Media

Northern river otters such as this have been spotted living in waterways throughout Lake County. | Photo Provided~Sun-Times Media

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The northern river otter has been seen in Lake County waters.

“While river otters would still be considered uncommon at best in Lake County, I have seen at least one while I was out in the field. This was in unincorporated Eagle Creek Township, not far from Leroy, in the southeastern part of the county,” said Chris Brown, Lake County assistant drainage administrator, on Dec. 4.

He took the inquiry a step further. Brown asked the man who does wildlife relocation for the county about otters. Although this man moves beavers, he is in places where otters also would live. This trapper and outdoorsman agreed northern river otters are present in Lake County, though uncommon.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation efforts date to 1995, when it began a reintroduction program aimed at bringing the northern river otter back home to Indiana. According to the IDNR, the goal was to re-establish a healthy otter population in several watersheds in northern and southern Indiana. After five years of reintroductions, the otter population began to expand due to natural reproduction.

Otters were removed from the state endangered species list in 2005. Since then, river otters have been documented in more than 80 Indiana counties.

“Otters are in the weasel family, though much larger than mink or weasels,” Brown said. “They are usually dark brown and sleek, about 12 to 30 pounds, and 2 to 3 feet in length with a 1- to 2-foot tail. They are really cool animals.”

Otters have moved into central Indiana, where the habitat wasn’t considered ideal for them. But otters found suitable areas there to live, said Scott Johnson, nongame biologist with the IDNR. Now, DNR officials are pleasantly surprised that otters have made it to Lake County on their own.

“It’s been seven years since delisting (as an endangered species), and all our information indicates the otter population continues to expand,” Johnson said.

Improving water quality in the state has helped 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.



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