Recovery of the River Otter to Kentucky

Recovery efforts of river otters (Lontra canadensis) in Southeastern states that have implemented restoration programs are poorly documented in the published literature. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources released 355 river otters among 14 sites during 1991-1994, and a statewide harvest was implemented in 2006. We used damage reports, sign surveys, and harvest data to evaluate the recovery and current status of the river otter in Kentucky. When all census data were combined, river otters were observed in each of the 12 major watersheds in the state. Our data indicate higher otter abundance in the Jackson Purchase and central reintroduction region of Kentucky, and lower abundance in the eastern plateau and mountain regions. Overall, these data indicate a successful reintroduction of river otters to the state. The small remnant population in the west appears to have expanded and be linked to the increasing numbers of otters in the reintroduction zone. The number of river otters harvested stabilized after a peak in 2006-07, indicating that the existing statewide harvest protocol (bag limit = 6) may be sufficient to maintain a stable population of otters in Kentucky. Further research, including reproductive and demographic analyses as well as the potential impacts on prey populations, is necessary to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the river otter population in Kentucky and its role in ecosystems to which it has been reintroduced.

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