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Division of Wildlife


Colorado's river otter population has shown a strong recovery.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission downlisted the river otter from endangered to threatened on the state’s protected species list Thursday, marking the success of the Division of Wildlife’s (DOW) efforts to recover the species. Greg Walcher, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources, called the downlisting a victory for Colorado.

“We have known for some time that Colorado’s river otter population has shown a strong recovery that warrants a downlisting, and I am proud of the experts at the DOW who have made this happen,” said Walcher. “The future of land management and the health of wildlife populations in Colorado will hinge on the ability of states to recover endangered species, and this is a great step toward that goal.”

Otters, natives that once inhabited many of Colorado’s streams, were last recorded in the state in the early 1900s. DOW biologists began working to recover the species in 1976 and have released more than 100 into streams from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado.

“All of the information we have collected supports a designation of threatened rather than endangered,” said Larry Nelson, the DOW’s species conservation manager. “The river otter has expanded its range from the five release sites and now meets the criteria for threatened status.”

Species listed as endangered no longer inhabit the state or exist in such small numbers they could disappear within a short period of time. The threatened designation still provides full protection for the species, but signifies that their status is less precarious.

The DOW’s otter recovery plan specifies that the species should be downlisted to threatened when there are at least three separate, self-sustaining populations in the state. The DOW’s survey found populations on the Green, Gunnison, Piedra and Colorado rivers over the past two years.

“We have a long way to go before the species is fully recovered and we’re going to continue to work toward that goal,” Nelson said.

The Commission also extended an emergency regulation prohibiting the importation, exportation and transportation of six African rodent species as well as prairie dogs to prevent the spread of monkey pox in North America. The disease was found in captive rodent populations in other U.S. states earlier this year, prompting a nation-wide ban on the movement of the African rodents and prairie dogs.

The disease has not been found in Colorado. However, captive prairie dogs were exposed to the disease in other states, and wildlife officials are concerned that—if left unchecked—monkey pox could infect Colorado’s native rodent populations with potentially severe impacts for prairie dogs and other species.

The six African rodents are tree or sun squirrels, rope squirrels, dormices, Gambian giant pouched rats, brush-tailed porcupines and striped mice.

The removal and relocation of wild prairie dogs will be allowed only with written permission from the DOW.

The Commission also added the New Zealand mud snail to the state’s prohibited list because of the threat the exotic species presents to Colorado’s aquatic species. The tiny snail already has been found in the Midwest and in Idaho, where it has had a major impact on native aquatic species. The DOW will work with anglers, boaters and public and private hatcheries to provide them with information so they don’t inadvertently bring mud snails into the state.

The Commission also adopted a regulation allowing a variance process for fencing and enclosures for commercial wildlife parks larger than five acres that house exotic species, including African lions, tigers, wolves and other exotic and native wildlife. The DOW has the responsibility under state law to set regulations for fencing the wildlife parks to prevent the captive species from escaping, potentially harming the state’s native wildlife.

The regulation change will allow facility operators to request a variance if they believe their fencing or enclosure is at least as good or better than those set out in DOW regulations.

The Commission also approved a regulation allowing facilities licensed prior to Jan. 1, 2001, to continue to operate for “commercial use” as required under state statute even if they are non-profit corporations.




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