The DNR’s reintroduction of the river otter to West Virginia in the 1980′s continues to evolve. The 2012 trapping season was the first time in more than a century West Virginia trappers could trap an otter. The limit was one per season.
“Last year the total kill was 206 for the state and it ended up on the lower end of where we expected which really made me happy,” said Rich Rogers who oversees fur bearers for the West Virginia DNR. “I think the harvest will be down a little bit this year. I think it was up a little last year because there was no ice and snow and trappers were in the woods and water the entire season.”
Rogers thinks otters are now in all 55 West Virginia counties. A handfull still don’t have any documented sightings, but he feels confident they are there. Greenbrier County was the top county for otter trappers in 2012. Rogers expects the continued statistics to give them a better glimpse into where the otter is moving, but as a guide he said follow the food.
“Remember they’re semi-aquatic mammals. They’re feeding on fish, crayfish, and some mussels,” he said. “So if the water isn’t any good, the main critters they feed on aren’t going to be there either and that’s the main impact on otters.”
Originally, otters were reintroduced into several river drainages in the state where the water quality was acceptable. Rogers said it’s pretty easy to identify the habitat for otters in West Virginia. He said if you turned an hour-glass on its side and laid it over a map of the state you’d easily identify the best places for them to thrive.
“The southern counties and the Cheat River drainage are where the water quality isn’t quite as good,” explainedRogers. “The western counties, then it bottlenecks, and opens up in the mountian counties.”
Neighobring Virginia learned in thier trapping season most of the otters captured weren’t targeted. Many were taken in beaver traps. Rogers suspected the same thing happened in West Virginia. The DNR attempts to discourage non-target trapping of otters.
“There are ways to set your traps to not totally avoid, but make it a lot less likely to catch an otter,” he said.
Rogers said he thinks otter numbers are strong, but to keep an eye on it they’ll need some help from trappers. They’re asking assistance from any trapper willing to provide a female reproductive tract and the skull from any otter so they can extract a tooth. The items will be valuable to the DNR’s ongoing monitoring of the critters.