Tuesday, January 18, 2022

DEC to Continue River Otter Surveys

otter tracksHave you ever seen a river otter in New York? Prior to the 1990s, river otter were absent from most of central and western New York. That all changed between 1995–2001, when DEC worked with trappers and other groups to reintroduce 279 otter to 16 different sites in central and western parts of the state.

To evaluate the success of this effort and to gain a better understanding of otter populations throughout New York, DEC staff conducted over 2,000 winter sign surveys across the state in 2017 and 2018. During these surveys, biologists and technicians looked for otter tracks, latrines, and other signs of otter presence on the landscape. These surveys found that otter were well-established across the entire state and could be found in almost all suitable habitat!

This winter, DEC staff are repeating the winter sign surveys. We will compare the results to the previous surveys, allowing us to get a better idea of otter population trends and help us better guide otter management into the future.

How You Can Help

In addition to the survey data, DEC collects public sighting data for river otter and other furbearer species. If you have seen an otter, fisher, bobcat, weasel, marten, or snowshoe hare in Upstate New York (or otter, beaver, gray fox, weasel, mink, coyote, or skunk in Long Island/NYC), we encourage you to report your sighting.

Photo: River otter tracks and slides in the snow.

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.


14 Responses

  1. Alan West says:

    DEC needs to reopen the otter season in the Catskills,Mohawk Valley, and western New York

  2. JT says:

    Learned something new. Did not know about the site to report animal sightings.
    Just reported a fisher sighting I had back in December while deer hunting.
    I am a firm believer in providing the NYSDEC information when requested to enable them to do a better job.

  3. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “DEC needs to reopen the otter season…….”

    How anybody can kill such a beautiful creature is beyond me! I couldn’t imagine killing an otter just to kill it, or for a trophy, or for its fur. When John Lennon wrote, and sang his most wonderful song, “How do you sleep at night” it was directed towards this bunch!

  4. JB says:

    Thanks to DEC for keeping the public updated. These types of modern wildlife translocation efforts are notoriously unsuccessful, and the organizations involved seldom make much information available to the public. Here is an area where the entire scientific establishment could benefit tremendously from increased data sharing. There are still so many unknowns with these types of programs (population viability, genetic variability, ecosystem interactions, ethology, infectious disease). That being said, river otter (and spruce grouse) are good candidates for translocation. (Cervids are now out of the question due to CWD, and I think that there are too many unknowns to rush into reestablishing wolves and lynx.)

  5. Charlie Stehlin says:

    ” I think that there are too many unknowns to rush into reestablishing wolves and lynx.”

    It might not be such a bad idea for re-establishing wolves in the Adirondacks JB. It might keep them from extinction as out west they’re not too welcome. The mindset out there is, “Wolves are better off dead!” To some people there’s just no appreciation of our wild wonders JB, as the records show and history keeps revealing! Lennon wrote that same song for them too!

    In the Adirondacks they’d be safe. The mentality out west is do be done with them. Recall it took but 3 days to kill over 200 of them in Wisconsin not long before Biden stole the election from Trump. It’s not just death row inmates Trump wanted to see dead before he lost his power, it was wolves too. A mindset! It comes with the species. I’m all for wolves in the Adirondacks if it’s gonna save them.

    • JB says:

      Charlie, I’m not sure that wolves would be much safer in NYS than they are out west. Look at what has been happening with the Yosemite pack–there are few remaining since they are “harvested” as soon as they wander off of the National Park. There are no large tracts of land in NYS where hunting is banned similarly to Yosemite. I heard about a wolf that was trapped and killed in the southern Adirondacks in recent times and was subsequently confirmed as such by DEC. And, assuming a reintroduced population survived to become self-reproducing–an enormous ‘if’–hybridization with the surrounding and much larger coyote population would likely be significant. Coyote sport hunting is hugely popular in the North Country.

      My opposition to wolf reintroduction is more of an opposition to the science of–or lack of a science of–species introduction in general. Virtually all of the data from modern wildlife translocation efforts is hidden away from scientific scrutiny in private ‘gray literature’ that will likely never be published; and considering the HUGE risks involved with tampering with an ecosystem (notwithstanding the tu quoque that it has “already been tampered with”), we should not take it on the word of these organizations that their analysis (which itself is based on A LOT of extrapolation of inevitably inadequate wildlife monitoring data) is bulletproof. In the coming decades, I hope that the NYS philosophy heads further in the direction of caution that they have gone with cervids. Reintroducing elk as a big game opportunity and importing white-tail deer for private hunting reserves–once done with little skepticism–would now be considered absolute madness in light of what we have learned in the past 20 years about CWD. More recently, there are heightened–although subdued–concerns with fish stocking in light of aquatic invasives and evidence of hatchery-wild gene introgression. In my humble opinion, the current body of knowledge on things like ecosystem interactions, inbreeding, founder effect, hybridization are woefully inadequate to justify calling these types of management programs “rewilding”. The best way to rewild an ecosystem is to protect and restore habitat–preserve wildlife corridors, limit habitat disturbance, eliminate dams. But those are concessions that few will make if we are all convinced that shortcuts can reproduce exactly the same results.

      • Boreas says:


        I agree. If you create a safe habitat that is not “managed”, but is truly wild, wild creatures will typically return on their own. But predators need to be left alone to kill their prey. If humans are unwilling to allow predator/prey cycles to prevail without active “management”, the places will never be wild. Eastern coyotes are helping to fill the ecological niche of wolves that were exterminated. Let them be – at least on the wild lands.

  6. Boreas says:

    “We will compare the results to the previous surveys, allowing us to get a better idea of otter population trends and help us better guide otter management into the future.”

    I am becoming less and less prone to sharing data with DEC until their “management” goals do not include future “harvesting” of the animals they are trying to reintroduce. If an ecosystem cannot provide natural predator/prey population control, introduction should not be considered.

  7. Charlioe Stehlin says:

    “My opposition to wolf reintroduction is more of an opposition to the science of–or lack of a science of–species introduction in general. ”

    > I was being facetious JB in what I said above. I feel that wolf introduction wouldn’t work in the Adirondacks. I think they need more wild space for one. I cannot define why I feel that, I just do. Gut instinct maybe!

    “The best way to re-wild an ecosystem is to protect and restore habitat–preserve wildlife corridors, limit habitat disturbance, eliminate dams.”

    > Back in the days when there were wolves in New York, there was also a lot of wilderness, and green corridors for them to wander through, to propagate…the whole northeast was one big howling wilderness. We chopped it all to pieces as we continue to do with what’s left. Science is important but not when it comes to economy. There’s been a campaign to kill them off since the 1600’s which the history reveals. I wish the wolves lots of luck as they are going to need it! That goes for all species outside of the ‘crazy ape’ man, and then….they are (the latter) going to eventually have to come to terms with major problems of their own, which will be, and is, of their own making!

  8. Patricia Murray says:

    I believe I saw an otter in the creek tributary to Cazenovia Creek on Michael in West Seneca or Orchard Park, NY. I saw it quickly, but it had that very distinctive tail that is very thick towards the body and slims as it goes down.

  9. Alan G West says:

    It amazes me how many comments above are from people with little to no knowledge about fisher.I know some people are opposed to trapping, but it is the best furbearer management tool, with very strict regulations. I have been an Adirondack fisher trapper for close to fifty years.During that time I have seen a definate decline in the Adirondack population. Why? There are a number of reasons.One is the over mature Adirondack “Forever Wild” forest. Little undergrowth. There are other reasons too, many which we do not thoroughly understand.
    Years ago a live trap and reintroduction program of Adirondack fisher were conducted into the Catskills.That program succeeded and the population spread westward into the southern tier along with fisher moving in from Pennsylvania.
    I hear them referred to as “fisher cats”. They are NOT cats, but members of the weasel family.
    For years now DEC has been studying the decline, with some pretty sad methods.
    Arrogance on the part of some (not all) biologists have ignored by skilled trappers. College theories have been employed and they are just that, only a theory. Trappers have been required a special permit to trap them, submit every skull to DEC, and must have the pelts sealed before they can be sold.
    I blame DEC for the lack of proper management for the Adirondack decline.They were too busy working on studying a species that is expanding it’s range (pine Marten), and not recognizing the fisher decline. and other trappers had to tell them of the problem.
    Years ago DEC biologists managed the population if it got too low by closing the season for a year or two. What did these genius biologists do, they shortened the season, but ON THE WRONG END. No regard for fur primeness was given, and in the southern and western counties they opened a very short season, in OCTOBER ! No regard of harvesting this valuable, renewable resource when it is at it’s best.
    Years ago I was contacted by DEC to participate in a national “BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES” program studying fisher. Trouble was they waited to the tail end of the season when most of the fisher had already been caught. They would not listen to my suggestions as to the most hunane traps to use, telling me what kind of traps they wanted me to use.
    Fisher are great predators for their size and a lot of misinformation is spread by people that simply do not know.If you want to look at a really serious predator and the harm it bringsa, look at the Eastern Coyote.

  10. Alan G West says:

    The otter reintroduction into western New York took place over twenty years ago,
    How long to the DEC studies take?????

  11. Paul Cinque says:

    While vacationing at Chautauqua lake my wife and I did see at least one possibly two otters. Very dark fur. Maybe because he was wet. Walking on the bulkhead at the house we rented on the lake. No doubt about it.
    It was definitely an otter. He even stopped and looked at us. I think it was very young. Maybe about 10-12 inches long.

  12. Alan West says:

    How long has it been since the otter reintroduction into western New York? Why is there no open trapping season there for them? Why does NYSDEC keep dragging their feet? Secret deals?

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