River Otter Reintroduction Feasibility Study
Human activities in the Grand Canyon region have eliminated or seriously reduced many of its large predator populations, including black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and Colorado River otters. Of these animals, the Colorado River otter was restricted to the Colorado River drainage and is now likely extinct. It was never abundant in historic times and did not receive Federal designation under the Endangered Species Act. Despite occasional reported sightings of Colorado River otters in Grand Canyon, no reliable documentation exists since the 1970s, and recent searches for this otter species have been unsuccessful. The causes of probable extinction of Colorado River otters include habitat fragmentation, inbreeding, and trapping.|
A recent symposium of scientists and agency administrators concluded that otter reintroduction is an important ecosystem goal for Grand Canyon National Park as part of a broader management objective to restore native wildlife and habitat impacted by the Glen Canyon Dam. Furthermore, otter population restoration programs elsewhere have met with considerable enthusiasm by the public. But while river otters have been reintroduced successfully in other segments of the Colorado River in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado by state wildlife management agencies, reintroducing otters in Grand Canyon National Park below the Glen Canyon Dam is controversial. Why? First, because the proposed otter to be reintroduced -- the southwestern river otter -- is a subspecies of the now extinct (presumably) Colorado River otter and therefore may not truly represent "restoration of native wildlife." Second, predatory river otters feed primarily on fish, of which several native species, like the humpback chub, are endangered. Since data on river otters within the Grand Canyon National Park is so limited, the ecological impact (whether adverse or positive) of their reintroduction on other species and their shared habitat is unknown.
This project will support the park's participation in a feasibility study to examine the biological, technical, and administrative feasibility and challenges surrounding river otter restoration in Grand Canyon. When completed, the study will inform state and federal management agencies and other concerned parties about these issues and thereby facilitate river otter restoration and long-term fundraising efforts.
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