The Indiana Natural Resources Commission on Tuesday approved rules that include a limited river otter trapping season beginning this fall.
River otters, a native Indiana species, are one of several successful management projects of the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife, along with the restoration of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons.
By the early 1900s, the loss of habitat and unregulated trapping led to a declining population of river otters, prompting the Department of Conservation, DNR’s predecessor, to ban the taking of river otters in 1921. It is believed the species was gone from the state by the 1940s.
The DNR began reintroducing otters to state waterways in 1995. Over a five-year period, 303 river otters were captured in Louisiana and released in northern and southern Indiana. Their populations increased enough through natural reproduction that river otters were removed from the state endangered species list in 2005. Presently, river otters have expanded their range to include over 80 percent of Indiana’s counties and their numbers continue to increase.
The rules passed Tuesday by the NRC followed DNR recommendations to allow river otter trapping in 66 counties that are within watersheds where river otters were released during the 1990s. Trappers will not be allowed to take river otters in 26 central Indiana counties where river otters were not reintroduced and where otters have not become established.
In addition to the county restrictions, a licensed trapper can take no more than two otters per season with a statewide quota of 600 otters. The trapping season will be Nov. 15 to March 15, unless the statewide quota is reached sooner.
The proposed trapping season will not adversely affect the river otter population. Currently, regulated trapping is used to manage river otters in at least 33 states, many of which reintroduced river otter. The conservative bag limit and statewide quota are designed to allow otters the opportunity to continue to expand their range and population densities in central Indiana.
The rules also allow for the sale of hides from legally taken river otters and squirrels.
The rules still need approval from the Attorney General’s Office and Governor’s office before taking effect. Details will be included in the 2015-16 Indiana Hunting & Trapping Guide that will be available in August.
In other actions Tuesday, the NRC approved nature preserve status for two sites, bringing to 264 the number of state-designated sites protected by the Nature Preserves Act. The newest additions are Meyer Nature Preserve in Morgan County and Sally Reahard Woods in Harrison County.
The Meyer Nature Preserve is just over 68 acres in northeast Morgan County, about five miles south of Mooresville. The forested site’s topography features steep slopes, ridges and valleys and is home to breeding populations of four species of special concern – hooded, worm-eating and cerulean warbler, and Eastern box turtle. Central Indiana Land Trust owns and manages the site.
Sally Reahard Woods is a 658-acre property that is adjacent to the Mosquito Creek Nature Preserve. It contains sandstone capped hills, limestone bedrock cliffs along the west branch of Mosquito Creek and upland forests. Red-shouldered hawks, hooded warblers, and sharp-shinned hawks are species of special concern found at the site, along with a state-endangered insect, the Earwig Scorpionfly.
The NRC is an autonomous board that addresses topics pertaining to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
NRC members include the DNR director, heads of three other state agencies (Environmental Management, Tourism Development, and Transportation), six citizens appointed by the governor on a bipartisan basis, the chair of the NRC’s advisory council, and the president of the Indiana Academy of Science. The Academy of Science president and the agency heads, other than the DNR director, may appoint proxies to serve the commission in their absences.