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Release Date: 11/02/09
Contacts: Theresa Herrera , 505.438.7517  

More River Otters Released in Upper Rio Grande

New Mexico native population grows

Taos, NM–Populations of a New Mexico native – river otters – once found in streams and rivers throughout the state, are now growing with a second transplant and release. Six river otters were released today in the Rio Pueblo De Taos on the Taos Pueblo. 

The wild otters were trapped from the State of Washington by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -Wildlife Services and transported to New Mexico in an aircraft provided by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) earlier in the week.  The work is part of a larger otter reintroduction program organized by Taos Pueblo, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the BLM, the New Mexico Friends of River Otters, USDA Wildlife Services, and a coalition of citizens, agencies, and conservation organizations dedicated to restoring otters to the state.

“We’re thrilled to be a partner in this effort,” said Sam DesGeorges, Manager of the BLM’s Taos Field Office.  “Together we will enable the public and future generations to inherit a landscape with river otters, bighorn sheep and other native wildlife, plus properly functioning riparian areas and upland watersheds.”
The first river otters were reintroduced in New Mexico in 2008, when 10 otters dove into the Rio Pueblo de Taos, marking the first time otters have lived in New Mexico for a half century.  Many of the otters have moved to stretches of the Rio Grande. 

The Rio Grande and its tributaries are special places.  Like a puzzle, the web of life in this area includes many species that are now missing.  What the BLM and its partners are doing is focused on putting the pieces of the puzzle back together, as much as possible, by reintroducing river otters to the Upper Rio Grande.

River otters are highly social, playful, semi-aquatic members of the weasel family.  They are believed to have once inhabited the Gila, upper and middle Rio Grande, Mora, San Juan and Canadian river systems, and were occasionally mentioned in the journals of early settlers.

Decades of trapping and habitat loss are believed to be two factors in their disappearance. Current regulations require trappers to release any otters caught in traps.

"We are so thrilled to see this species back in New Mexico," said Linda Rundell, State Director for the Bureau of Land Management.  "We are working with partners throughout the State to restore watersheds and wildlife habitat; the icing on the cake comes when we can restore species like the river otter to their rightful place in New Mexico."

“We are very excited that Taos Pueblo has taken the initiative to ensure that this lively, energetic, playful animal is back in the Upper Rio Grande Watershed.  Otters are part of our natural heritage and our river ecosystems deserve them," said Melissa Savage with the New Mexico Friends of River Otters.

In 2006, the State Game Commission directed the Department of Game and Fish to initiate efforts to restore otters to state waters.  A Department study identified several rivers as suitable restoration sites, including the Upper Rio Grande, White Rock Canyon and Middle Rio Chama in the Rio Grande Basin; and the Gila and Lower San Francisco rivers in the Gila River Basin.  There will be additional releases this year in the Upper Rio Grande and next year in the Gila.

“There will be a monitoring plan and volunteers are welcome to sign up at our office for surveys of designated routes during the winter months,” said Valerie Williams, Wildlife Biologist for the BLM Taos Field Office.  “It’s easier to document sign of otters when there is snow on the ground, and knowing where otters are finding their way on public lands will assist us in making future management decisions; plus, it’s a great opportunity to get out and see some wildlife!”

The New Mexico Friends of River Otters, a coalition of government agencies and conservation organizations, plans to release additional otters. Members include Amigos Bravos, Earth Friends Wild Species Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Four Corners Institute, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Last updated: 06-28-2013