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SALT LAKE CITY — It's been four years since river otters were released in the Provo River and the Division of Wildlife Resources said the animals are doing well.
River otters are a native species to Utah, although historically, the population numbers were "never horribly abundant," according to DWR mammal conservation coordinator Kimberly Hersey. The animals are an aquatic member of the weasel family and primarily feed on fish.
Sightings of the otters were fairly rare, but they were found in most river systems in Utah when the state was settled by Mormon pioneers, Hersey said. However, due to unregulated trapping, water pollution and channelization of the rivers — a flood control method that raised the banks and destroyed the otter's habitats — the otter populations suffered and eventually led to such a low population that they were unable to reproduce in adequate numbers.
Otters were brought in from Idaho, Nevada and Alaska and reintroduced to different areas around Utah in 1989, Hersey said. The majority of the animals were transplanted in the Green River in the Flaming Gorge area. The area still has the strongest population of river otters in the state, Hersey said.
In 2011, DWR officials took otters from the Green River population and from areas of Idaho and reintroduced them into the Provo River. Hersey said there was concern from the angler community when the otters were first introduced into the Provo River, but that the fishery staff said the otters haven't made a reduction in the number of fish in the area.
Hersey said it's quite difficult to get a population estimate, but said it appears the otters are doing well in the Provo River and across the state.
"We don't have a firm idea of numbers — they are a low-density animal, so that's really hard to get at," Hersey said. "But as far as distribution, we know that we have them pretty much throughout the Green and Colorado (Rivers) drainages. They've been seen on Lake Powell. … The Provo River population seems to be holding on and doing well. They've been confirmed on Utah Lake and had some reproduction there."
Although they are very cute, Hersey said as with any wild animal, if you see a river otter, don't try to catch it. However, DWR is always trying to find where the river otters are located or if they are reproducing, so sending pictures and video of the animals to officials is encouraged.
"In general, they are just a wonderfully fun animal to see and watch, so we're just excited for people when they get the opportunity," Hersey said.
Photos or video of river otters in Utah can be emailed to email@example.com.