DNR hopes West Virginia public can help locate otters

BECKLEY, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources hopes you will be able to help out with the documentation of the otter range and numbers in the Mountain State. The agency in recent days announced plans for a “citizens science survey” to help determine the density of the state’s otter population.

“This is pretty much just asking folks if they see an otter, try to get a picture of it and report it to us on-line,” said Holly Morris, Furbearer Biologist for the West Virginia DNR.

The agency has had success with similar projects in recent years They’ve asked the public for reports when spotting box turtles and rattlesnakes. The otter program will work in much the same manner.

Those who see an otter are asked to make the report through an on-line form. It’s a simple procedure which asks where the otters were sighted and even gives you the option of using your phone’s GPS locator to drop a pin on the spot. There’s also room to upload a picture of the critter if you got one and a few other simple observation questions to give biologists a good handle on the numbers.

“Pictures are definitely preferred, that would be great. You can use your phone’s location or you can use a map there to identify where you saw it. We do need location information and if folks can get a picture that would be great,” she said.

River otters were considered extirpated from West Virginia in the 1950’s. Poor water quality had caused a great decline in the numbers of fish otters tend to feed on. Their numbers had also dwindled with the lack of any solid food sources. However, over time the water quality improved and in the 1980’s and ’90s, DNR began to work to bring them back to the Mountain State.

“There were various places throughout that 20 year period where they were reintroduced. We got them from a lot of states too. We had otters from Louisiana, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and all over. Throughout the U.S. there were a lot of states doing the same thing we were. Different areas had higher populations and coastal areas had different environmental issues than those that were inland,” said Morris.

Today, you’re likely to find otters anywhere in the state. However, Morris said nobody had done any kind of research in quite a while to figure out just how widespread the range had become.

“We had some concerns and questions about where otters were occurring, so that’s why we launched this initiative to document sightings,” she said.

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