LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Ever since she became the Kansas Riverkeeper in 2015, Dawn Buehler has been trying to find evidence of otters on the Kansas .
But while traveling the river, kayaking about 700 miles a year, Buehler said she struggled to seek out anything associated with the animal.
Recounting her efforts, Buehler, who is additionally the chief director of the buddies of the Kaw organization, recently told the Lawrence Journal-World that she would constantly find tracks of animals on sandbars and therefore the banks of the river. Those would normally be from deer, birds and beavers.
But when she would find something that seemed like an otter’s tracks, she would message author George Frazier, who wrote “The Last Wild Places of Kansas,” to verify her suspicion.
“I would say, ‘George, otter tracks?’” Buehler said. “(He would respond), ‘No, Dawn, raccoon.”
But last year, Buehler said she found tracks that she was sure came from an otter.
In September, while she and a crew were inspecting the river for damage caused by summer flooding, Buehler stopped on a sandbar between the communities of St. George and Wamego in Pottawatomie County.
“I got out of my kayak, and therefore the very very first thing I saw was what i assumed were otter tracks,” she said. “So I sent them to George: ‘Otter tracks? I’m certain George, these need to be otter tracks.’ And he wrote me back and said, ‘You finally found them.’”
A few months later, Buehler found more otter tracks — coincidentally with Frazier joining her this point — along the river in Douglas County. On Dec. 23, she posted on the buddies of the Kaw social media accounts about the discoveries, including a photograph of the tracks they found along the river between Lecompton and Lawrence.
“Now I can say, for sure, that I even have seen proof that the otter is on the Kansas ,” she said.
As Buehler’s experience shows, spotting otters in Kansas are often difficult. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, said Matt Peek, a wildlife research biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
The type of otter found in Kansas is that the North American Lutra canadensis , consistent with the department’s website. within the early 1800s, that sort of otter was believed to be common along major rivers and streams within the state.
But the mammals were exhausted during the settlement of the state as a results of people over-harvesting their fur and polluting their habitats. In 1904, the last reported otter of that period was trapped near Manhattan, consistent with the department.
In recent years, however, the otters are making a comeback. within the 1980s, otters from Idaho and Minnesota were reintroduced into Kansas at the Cottonwood River in Chase County. Additionally, otters began getting into Kansas after Missouri released quite 800 otters into the wild between 1982 and 1992.
Since their reintroduction to Kansas, otters are spotted a couple of times within the Douglas County area, particularly within the Baker Wetlands, Peek said. consistent with previous Journal-World reporting, an otter was first spotted within the Baker Wetlands back in 2008.
Peek said otters were thriving in other parts of the state, usually along rivers in southeast Kansas. However, they will be hard to seek out because they’re “fairly nocturnal,” and it’s not in their best interest to be seen by humans, he said.
“They can exist around people relatively unnoticed,” Peek said. “Their status within the state is sweet . They’ve been increasing here for several decades.”
Although the otters are thriving elsewhere, Buehler said there had not been evidence of them on the Kansas .
“We have seen indications of otters on the tributaries of the Kansas ,” Buehler said, including the Wakarusa River. “But the Kansas may be a much bigger river system, and we’ve been trying to find signs of them because they really are sensitive to pollution and habitat loss.”
While the newly discovered evidence of the otters on the river may be a victory for conservation efforts, Buehler said it had been also an honest sign of the water quality of the river, which provides beverage to several Kansans. the town of Lawrence uses the river and Clinton Lake as its two water sources.
Buehler said several initiatives to enhance the river’s water quality — like better farming practices and better storm water drainage methods in urban areas — have likely contributed to the resurgence in otters.
“When you look and see that we are finding otters on the Kansas , to me that’s a symbol of improvement,” she said. “So it had been pretty exciting to understand that they’re there, that they’re surviving which they’re thriving.”
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