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Colorado Otters May No Longer Need Protection

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Colorado Otters May No Longer Need Protection

FRISCO, Colo. (AP) ― River otters are thriving in Colorado, and state wildlife officials say they're considering lifting protections because the species is doing so well.

Pollution, trapping, human settlement and stream diversion were blamed for the decline of river otters in Colorado. By the beginning of the 20th century, the species disappeared from Colorado. As recently as 40 years ago there were still no known river otters in Colorado.

But wildlife officials say that river otters introduced about 30 years ago have thrived and are reproducing in several rivers, including the Upper Colorado, the Gunnison, the Piedra and the Dolores rivers. The river otters have since been reclassified from "endangered" to "protected."

Now Colorado's Division of Wildlife is conducting surveys to determine whether otters still need legal protection.

"At this point, otters are doing very well in Colorado," wildlife biologist Michelle Cowardin told the Summit Daily News. "Up by the Grand-Summit county line, we've surveyed eight different reaches of streams, and in every one we see otter signs."

Biologist seldom see the otters. Instead they hunt in winter for signs of river otters — scat, dens and tracks. The animals even leave telltale toboggan-like paths through the snow.

"They slide on their bellies to access water or when they're traveling over a frozen river. They bound and slide, bound and slide — that's how they move across the landscape," Cowardin said.

No timetable has been given for a decision on removing otter protections. Cowardin said wildlife enthusiasts have been asked to report those otter sightings and to take pictures to aid in the agency's monitoring efforts.

(© 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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