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Monday, June 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Otters moving into North Idaho in increasing numbers - and not the gubernatorial kind

Five river otters have shown up in Hauser Lake, where they’ve been entertaining local residents with their playful antics.

Over the past three weeks, the otters have been spotted swimming alongside kayaks, lounging on docks while they groom their fur and chasing each other in the wetland on the northeast side of the lake.

Hauser Lake residents are buzzing about their new neighbors.

“At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. … I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a really big muskrat,’ ” said Angela Marie Slotten, a Hauser Lake resident who has snapped pictures and taken video of the otters. “The way they move in the water, they look like seals. I’ve lived here nine years, and I’d never seen an otter on the lake.”

River otters are members of the weasel family, whose luxurious pelts once made them staples of the Western fur trade. Webbed toes, stubby legs and long, sinuous bodies make them powerful swimmers.

Otters are associated with clean water and healthy fish populations. Their numbers are increasing in the Idaho Panhandle.

“They’re a pretty neat critter. People like to watch them,” said Chip Corsi, regional director for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Coeur d’Alene. “I’m not surprised when someone tells me they’ve seen one somewhere in the Panhandle. They’re actually doing pretty well as a population.”

The otters’ appearance in Hauser, a small lake about 8 miles northwest of Post Falls, probably represents a southern migration in search of unoccupied territory, he said. Though otters spend most of their time in the water, they’re also adapted for land travel, sometimes building their dens a half-mile away from the water.

“If they’re looking for a home range, I don’t think it’s a big deal for otters to make their way down those smaller lakes to new territory,” Corsi said.

In addition to local lakes, otters are found on the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers, and in the Spokane, Little Spokane and Palouse rivers in Washington. They can also frequent ponds and sloughs.

Otters are often photographed floating on their backs, and they’re known for their group play, which includes chasing each other.

However, Fish and Game officials occasionally get reports of aggressive behavior from otters, usually females with pups. Several years ago, a wildlife biologist had to get stitches after an otter she live-trapped in the McArthur Lake Wildlife Management Area north of Sandpoint bit her on the leg.

“They’re cute and fun to watch, but don’t presume they’re like a puppy dog,” Corsi said.

Otters are opportunistic eaters that will consume ducklings and amphibians as well as fish, their primary food.

Hauser Lake is known for its prolific bluegill fishing, but anglers shouldn’t worry, according to Corsi, who said even five otters won’t be able to put a dent in that.

For Slotten, watching the otters has become a bit of an obsession. When she sees them on her morning run, she has a hard time tearing herself away.

“I’ve been late for work a couple of times because I can’t stop watching them,” she said, chuckling. “It reminds me of kids out there playing.”

She’s curious about what will happen over the winter. Late fall is typically the time when juvenile otters leave the family in search of their own territory.

“The lake is part of our lives,” Slotten said. “To see these guys has been really special.”

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