Illinois Department of Natural Resources
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Bob Bluett, 217-782-6384
Welcome Back, Otters!
ILLINOIS RIVER OTTERS THRIVE; REMOVED FROM LIST OF STATE
Illinois river otters passed a huge milestone in statewide recovery
efforts in September 2004, when Illlinois Department of Natural
Resources officially removed them from its list of “state threatened
“State threatened” indicates that otters were a troubled wildlife
population in Illinois; otters abound in certain states.
“Today, Illinois river otters thrive as populations jumped from
an all-time low of 100 in the 1970s to more than 4,600 today,” says
Bob Bluett, wildlife diversity biologist at Illinois DNR. “More
notably, otters now reside in the Chicago area -- an idea that would
have been unheard of just a few years ago.”
Illinois’ river otter recovery plan recommends delisting the species
when biologists could document populations as widespread and secure.
Illinois DNR will continue monitoring river otters to ensure their
“River otters have special protection in Illinois,” Bluett says.
“They are considered nongame, meaning harvesting by hunting and
trapping is not allowed.” He notes, however, that as populations
continue to multiply, harvesting might be necessary to maintain
healthy balances between otters and people.
River otters join a list of other species that have rebounded in
Illinois history, including beavers and white-tailed deer. At the
turn of the 20th century, before Illinois DNR was founded, beavers
and deer were almost gone from Illinois. Due to extensive recovery
efforts, today’s beaver and white-tailed deer populations are at
all-time highs, and statewide harvests help manage populations.
The long and winding road: Illinois otter recovery
Illinois otters were almost ghosts by the late 1970s when fewer
than 100 were estimated statewide. They then were listed as “state
endangered,” the most negative indicator of a species’ condition
The animals experienced years of over-harvesting before the last
otter season closed in 1929, but they also suffered from drastic
habitat losses. Draining wetlands, converting land for farming,
and channelizing streams and rivers played a role in otters’ decline
throughout the Midwest. Water pollution was a major problem in some
areas until standards and regulations helped clean up waterways
in the past 30 years.
Illinois DNR embarked on the otters’ successful recovery in 1994,
when biologists began releasing otters captured in Louisiana, where
they are plentiful, to develop strong populations along the Kaskaskia,
Wabash and Illinois river basins.
The dramatic otter reintroduction led to robust population growth
in the new millennium:
· Between 1994 and 2002, otters were reported in 91 of 102
· In 1999, river otters were upgraded from “state endangered”
to the less serious status of “state threatened” when their numbers
· In 2001, more than 1,800 otters lived in the original
· In 2004, numbers in original reintroduction areas top
Higher and heartier than expected
Statewide otter numbers are much higher than 4,600, which indicate
growth only in reintroduction areas. Illinois also benefited when
otters reintroduced by wildlife agencies in Missouri and Iowa spread
to nearby parts of Illinois. Additional numbers grew due to Illinois
DNR’s care of existing populations.
Illinois biologists were amazed not only by otters’ swift recovery,
but their ability to thrive in today’s landscape.
“We used to think that otters couldn’t survive in developed areas,
but we learned that otters are hearty,” says Bluett. “Biologists
found otters in the Chicago area. It takes a lot of flexibility
to survive in one of the nation’s most urban settings.”
Biologists have sighted otters along North Creek near Glenwood;
Poplar Creek near Elgin; Fox River near Aurora, and on Indian Creek
near Vernon Hills.
Contributions by trappers and others
Otters’ successful reintroduction shows that techniques and equipment
used by responsible trappers are safe, effective and as humane as
possible. Trappers captured river otters in Louisiana using foothold
traps as part of the Illinois otter reintroduction effort; these
animals were released safely.
“Trappers have proven themselves as true allies of conservation
and caretakers of wildlife,” Bluett says.
He notes that trapping technology, education and standards have
evolved during the last 75 years. “Traps with teeth are collector’s
items,” Bluett says. “In Illinois legal devises have smooth jaws
or padding and are sized to catch specific kinds of animals.”
In addition, trappers 18 and younger must pass an Illinois trapper
safety and education course to buy a license. More than 140 trappers
volunteer their time and energy to teach these courses each year.
“It has taken collaboration among state and federal agencies, trappers
and other conservationists to bring otters back to Illinois,” says
Bluett. “We’re thrilled to say that otters are here for good.”
Visit the Fur Hunting and Trapping in Illinois website
Learn more by visiting the Illinois DNR’s new website, “Fur Hunting
and Trapping in Illinois,” at dnr.state.il.us/orc/wildlife, or contact
the Illinois DNR at 217-782-6384.