Otter population increases in Grand County

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photo by Josh Richert River otters play in Grand County.
photo by Josh Richert River otters play in Grand County.

by Nina Wood

In the past couple of years or so in Grand County, if you have caught a glance of something unusual in the lakes, rivers or streams here that resembled a river otter, that’s probably what it was. The incredibly cute and lovable creatures are back after a long absence. (They can also be a pain!!)

Michelle Cowardin, a wildlife biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says trapping and poor water quality because of mining in the late 1800’s in the area combined with other factors depleted the otter population with the last known otter being seen back in 1909 in our area. In order to re-introduce the species in Colorado, during the 70’s wildlife officers selected 5 sites in the state in which to release otters.

The nearest site to Grand County was Rocky Mountain National Park, where 45 of the animals were released. In the years since the otters have spread out to nearly all the waterways and bodies of water here. How did they get from RMNP to places like the Williams Fork River? They have no problem taking off cross county to get from point A to point B.

Mature otters weigh about 25 pounds and eat about 5 pounds of food each day. They are known to eat whatever is easiest to find, like, insects, birds (including baby ducks,, crayfish, frogs, and rodents. The reference above to their being a pain comes from areas where people have boathouses or other similar structures. It seems otters love to get into those and sometimes into the boats themselves to enjoy lunch. They aren’t particularly good at cleaning up after themselves. The other detriment is the smell they leave because of their primarily fish diet.

They can be fun to watch with their penchant for play. But as with many wild animal mamas, female otters with their kids can be protective of their young and should be given space.

How many does Grand County have now? Cowardin says there really isn’t a way to know for sure. The CPW can really only determine presence or absence. But we know it’s more than has been here in over 100 years.