Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

May 8, 2008

Lake Dartmoor is home to river otters


River otters have recently been reported on Lake Dartmoor. To some, their presence is a threat to fishing success, while to others it is a chance to see one of Tennessee's most entertaining animals. Because of this disparity, trout stocking on four Fairfield Glade lakes was delayed this spring to evaluate the otter situation. It is hoped trout stocking will proceed in the very near future.

River otters (Lutra canadensis) are best known for their continuous and playful behavior, their aesthetic value, and the value of their durable, high-quality fur. They have long, streamlined bodies, short legs, and a robust, tapered tail, all of which are well adapted to their mostly aquatic habitat. They have prominent whiskers just behind and below the nose, thick muscular necks and shoulders, and feet that are webbed between the toes. Their short but thick, soft fur is brown to almost black except on the chin, throat, cheeks, and chest. Adult males usually attain lengths of nearly 48 inches and weights of about 25 pounds, while females are slightly smaller than males, measuring about 44 inches and weighing 19 pounds. Their diet is primarily fish, but shellfish, crayfish, amphibians, and reptiles are also eaten. (icwdm.org/handbook/carnivor/RiverOtters.asp)

River otters are making a comeback throughout much of their historic range of the eastern US, including Tennessee. They were extirpated in the late 1800s, primarily due to impacts on their primary food source (fish) caused by pesticides, water pollution, and habitat destruction, and to a lesser extent, fur harvest. Their relatively recent comeback results from our nation's current concern for clean water, re-growth of our forests, wildlife management, and other environmental interests. Deer, turkeys, bald eagles, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, and elk have also benefited from these concerns.

Now, back to the otter dilemma on Lake Dartmoor. Because otters consume primarily fish, they pose an impact on the success of Fairfield Glade fishermen. River otters eat 15 to 20 percent of their body weight daily, about 3 pounds of food. (www.riverotter.net/lutra_c.html) That's more fish than many fishermen catch in a day, and fishermen don't get to fish every day like the otters do. And otters don't practice "catch and release," like many fishermen. Are the otters causing so much damage to Fairfield Glade residents that they should be forced out of Lake Dartmoor? What would it take to get them to leave?

First of all, otters are showing up on Lake Dartmoor because of its size, remoteness, relatively undeveloped shorelines, and proximity to Catoosa Wildlife Management Area and Obed Wild and Scenic River. According to Kirk Miles, a TWRA wildlife biologist in Crossville, otters are doing very well in the nearby Obed River.

Trapping the otters on Lake Dartmoor would only remove those present on the lake at the time, if it were even possible, since they are difficult to trap. Randy Wolfe of Varmint Busters, in Knoxville, said it could take 2-3 weeks to trap the six otters reported on Lake Dartmoor. At $2500 per week, the cost for temporary control could reach $7500. Miles said other otters would likely move into the area vacated by the trapped otters.

Most fishermen, like myself, need all the help they can get, and don't need any additional competition from otters. But fishing is more than just reeling in fish. It is the experience of being out there on the water, hoping to catch fish, but also taking in the natural beauty of the lake or stream, including the wildlife. And to other people, the act of fishing itself is unnecessary to enjoy a day on the water. In summary, it seems the best solution to the otter "problem" is to consider them NOT a problem, but instead, another sign of the quality of life at Fairfield Glade.