By JIM ABRAMS
In 1986, the Division of Wildlife began to act on a long-term plan to bring back the American river otter, an animal extirpated from Ohio by 1900 due to uncontrolled harvest and habitat degradation.
Some thought it was a waste of money and time, while others argued that reestablishment was not only possible, but carried the opportunity of restoring a valuable native furbearing animal to riparian waterways. This included discussions of subsidizing the project through the nongame and endangered wildlife fund, since the river otter was listed as an Ohio endangered species.
Future wildlife chief Mike Budzik was one of those who argued against the move to use specialized spending. An avid outdoorsman and trapper, he knew otter biology and the ramifications of them swimming around the state’s streams, rivers and creeks. Otters are fun to watch, have a degree of “cute” that finds its way onto greeting cards, and they’re ferocious hunters.
American river otters have a long, tapered body, webbed feet and a flattened, muscular tail. They average 38 to 58 inches in length, with 50 percent of their length being tail, and weigh 11 to 33 pounds. In the wild, they can live 10 to 15 years. Otters prefer to feed during night and twilight hours. Their primary prey is fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, snakes, frogs and the occasional waterfowl and small mammal. If a pair slips silently into a private pond, the results can be startling.
Other biologists agreed with Budzik’s assessment. Their collective concern was that the use of nongame funds to finance the program could hamstring efforts if the project became a success. Management capabilities had to be available if these piscivorous weasels’ numbers jumped.
Using foothold traps, 123 otters were captured and relocated from Arkansas and Louisiana and released in the Grand River, Killbuck Creek, Little Muskingum River and Stillwater Creek watersheds.
Since 2000, annual bridge surveys have been conducted in watersheds throughout northeastern and southeastern Ohio to assess the otter’s distribution and long-term trends. As otters expanded their range, so has the survey, now including areas throughout the state. Otter sign has now been detected in Putnam, Seneca and Wood counties, with the highest populations found in the Grand River and Little Muskingum watersheds.
Sightings along western Lake Erie at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge are becoming routine, and there’s little doubt that they’re roaming the lake’s western shores. There’s also evidence that otters may be hopscotching their way to the Erie islands and possibly even invading Point Pelee National Park in Leamington, Ontario.
Yes, those otter numbers did bound beyond initial expectations. Due to the success of the animal’s reintroduction, the river otter was removed from the endangered species list in 2002. Through recommendations of the Division of Wildlife, laws were changed in 2005 to allow regulated trapping.
Thanks to the prudence of Budzik and the rest of the staff of Ohio’s Division of Wildlife, the right tools were available to help control the expanding populations. We’re lucky that we have trained biologists and officers managing our wildlife.
Info you otter know: River otters can hold their breath for up to eight minutes and dive 60 feet deep. They spend about two-thirds of their time on land and wash themselves after every meal. River otter youngsters are called pups, and the adults are the second largest of the weasel family, next to the wolverine. But who cares about wolverines in Ohio?
“The richest values of wilderness lie not in the days of Daniel Boone, nor even in the present, but rather in the future.”
— Aldo Leopold
Along the way
Some Ohio legislators have somehow come to believe that they are better able to manage the state’s wildlife resources than are trained professional wildlife and fisheries biologists and enforcement specialists. House Bill 553, sponsored by Don Jones of District 95, specifically targets coyotes but could have far-reaching, detrimental effects by politicizing natural resource management and its future.
The bill opens a dangerous backdoor that could help initiate future actions concerning managing seasons, hunting and trapping methods, and dealing with fluctuating wildlife populations within Ohio’s demographic requirements.
The Sportsmen’s Alliance and the Ohio State Trappers Association are just two of the nationally recognized organizations that are opposed to this legislative action. Like many wildlife enthusiasts, they have learned to rely on the proven North American model of wildlife management, which is based on science and not the whims of politics or unprofessional outside pushes.
The management of Ohio’s wildlife resources is currently in the hands of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, a team of trained and experienced professionals. Their work relies on oversight through meetings and input from the public. All proposals are also vetted by Ohio’s Wildlife Council, an eight-member group of citizens created to review and vote on division law changes and recommendations.
History reveals that this team works well. Need evidence? I’ll let the turkeys, eagles, ospreys, steelhead and otters speak to that success. I’ll allow those fishing out on Lake Erie and birding its shores to explain how this Great Lake went from joke to jewel.
Yes, the system works and it’s important that our legislators know it. I believe most already do. You can contact your state representative by visiting www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory or give their office a call. Let them know what you think, but don’t forget to thank them for everything they do for us.
Our local representatives are: District 83, Hancock and Hardin counties, Jon Cross, 614-466-3819; District 81, Putnam County, James M. Hoops, 614-466-3760; District 87, Seneca County, Riordan T. McClain, 614-644-6265; District 88, Sandusky and northern Seneca counties, Bill Reineke, 614-466-1374; District 3, Wood County, Haraz N. Ghanbari, 614-466-8104; and District 87, Wyandot County, Riordan T. McClain, 614-644-6265.
“In the soil of the quick fix is the seed of a new problem, because our quiet wisdom is unavailable.”
— Wayne Muller
• On May 8, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources was forced to shut down its website due to a potential security concern. According to the department’s IT office, no critical information was accessed, but it still has caused the disruption. Visitors to https://ohiodnr.gov will find contact numbers for each division and some operational information. There are also links to make park reservations, purchase hunting and fishing licenses and permits, and to renew or purchase watercraft licenses.
• Class A shooting ranges at Deer Creek, Grand River and Woodbury wildlife areas reopened May 21. Reservations are recommended, as ranges will be operating at 50% capacity.
• Tomorrow: 3-D Archery Match, Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Registration opens at 8 a.m. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m. UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay.