Researchers from West Virginia University are working with the Ohio Division of Wildlife to determine the habits of river otters to enhance the manageability of the animal in Ohio and adjacent states.

Otters were a common species in Ohio until habitat loss during the late 1800s and early 1900s caused this species to weaken in population in Ohio and many other areas of the United States, including West Virginia.

Between 1986 and 1993 the Ohio Division of Wildlife released 123 otters in four eastern Ohio watersheds. Since the release, the otters have increased their range to include 51 counties encompassing 52 watersheds. Since the release program ended nine years ago, methods used to inventory the population and location of the otters have not been adequately evaluated, and population figures are uncertain.

The team from WVU was approached by the Ohio Division of Wildlife to conduct a radio telemetry study to help determine movements of otters in order to determine population size and location of the ottershome ranges. Researchers will also evaluate the reproductive output of the otters and their habitat use. The data will help the Ohio Division of Natural Resources better manage otter populations and determine which land-use activities are or are not compatible with otters.

“This project will increase awareness of otters in the region and help ensure that this species will continue to be present in the landscape,”said project investigator Jim Anderson, assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries resources at WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences.”The otters are a natural component of our landscape and everything possible should be done to conserve their habitats and allow this species to prosper.”

Other researchers involved in the project are John Edwards, assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries resources at the Davis College, graduate student Dave Helon, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources furbearer biologist Chris Dwyer. The project began in August 2001 and will continue through December 2003.