By Candice Spector; Idaho State Journal
POCATELLO — A small group of otters has been swimming around in a fishing pond in the Edson Fichter Nature Area in Pocatello in recent weeks, catching the attention of local wildlife experts who say the animals’ presence there is a first.
The otters were first reported there by nature area visitors a few weeks ago, according to Southeast Regional Wildlife Manager Zach Lockyer of Idaho Fish and Game. Lockyer said while river otters are native to Southeast Idaho in the Portneuf and Snake rivers, he’s never heard of them spending time in that pond until now.
The otters likely came from the Portneuf River, which flows right through the Edson Fichter Nature Area and fills the nearby fishing pond in which the otters have been swimming.
Lockyer suspects the otters were drawn to the pond for its abundance of fish. The pond is regularly stocked for local fishers to come and fish recreationally.
“Like a lot of wild animals, otters are motivated by food and that is a community fishing pond with an ample food source,” he said, adding that the otters have been seen eating crawfish from the pond.
Otters are typically elusive and skeptical of humans in the wild, but this group of otters appears to be quite curious and has been swimming around playfully as people gather around the pond to watch them.
Lockyer called it “pretty neat” that the otters are there, but he cautioned that despite their friendly appearance, they are still wild animals and, as such, are somewhat unpredictable.
“Otters aren’t a species a lot of people get to see very often and so they’re kind of novel and cool, but with that amount of human activity we just worry about the animals getting habituated to people and what that might mean, whether it’s a concern over the otters themselves and their health and well being or a concern for public safety,” he said. “We just want to remind people that they are wild animals and even though they’re fun to watch, getting close to them and trying to feed them isn’t good for the otters and it could be actually putting people at risk as well.”
Lockyer didn’t have an exact population number for river otters in the region, but he said he believes the population is not as dense here as it is in other areas of Idaho.
The Idaho Fish and Game Southeast Regional Office doesn’t plan to intervene in the otters’ visits to the pond in Pocatello unless their consumption of fish from the pond impacts fishers’ ability to recreate there.
“The pond is stocked for the public to enjoy that pond to catch fish, so if the take of fish by otters reached a level that wasn’t compatible, then we would have to have a discussion about what the next step would be,” Lockyer said. “We just haven’t had those discussions yet because I think people are still catching fish.”
It’s unclear how long the otters will continue playing and fishing in the pond, but Lockyer said when the pond freezes this winter, they’ll likely move back into the river system where they can move around and find food more easily.