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Playful Otter's Pennsylvania Comeback

February 2, 2012

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The playful river otter has deep roots in Pennsylvania today, thanks to environmental protections some fear are slipping away.

The Clean Water Act became law 40 years ago and helped lay the foundation for otters to be reintroduced in the state after years of over-trapping and water pollution had taken a toll on the population.

Otters are a good indicator of what's in our waterways, according to Anne Bolen, managing editor of National Wildlife magazine.

"Silt that results from development and gas drilling ends up in the streams and smothers the very animals that the otters are depending on to eat, so this, in fact, limits where the otters can expand to."

The river otter, Bolen says, may depend on some seasonal streams and wetlands which dry up occasionally.

"We have a lot of confusion over what kinds of waters are being protected or should be protected."

Pennsylvanians need to realize that history can repeat itself, Bolen says, and that otters could have their backs to the wall as they did decades ago if their habitat isn't preserved.

"When we picture a healthy aquatic ecosystem, we automatically assume that the otter is there. There was a time when we could have been without the river otter if it weren't for the Clean Water Act and other such protections."

The otter's future in Pennsylvania isn't entirely clear. Last April, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers proposed restoring some Clean Water Act protections which either have been compromised or grown murky over time. Bolen says restoring those protections are something for which her group is pushing in Washington.

Read more about the river otter's comeback in Pennsylvania at nwf.org.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA