|River otter may soon be spotted in Emery County waters.|
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Cottonwood Creek Irrigation Company are working together on a cooperative agreement concerning the introduction of river otter into Straight Canyon.
The DWR presented a report at the January Emery County Public Lands Council concerning the otter. Craig Johansen, president of the Cottonwood Creek Consolidated Irrigation Company requested a contract concerning the otter so all concerned parties would know what to expect.
Tony Wright along with the legal counsel for the DWR prepared a draft document to present to the irrigation company and the Emery Water Conservancy District.
Wright gave a short presentation concerning the otter and their habits and needs for habitat. He said the males are much bigger than the female otters. They have a beautiful pelt. They are native to Utah, but they have not been abundant. In an effort to promote their presence on a more statewide level, an otter management plan was approved by the wildlife board on Jan. 4, 2005.
Otters remain active in the winter months. They exist on a diet of fish. This is one of the causes for concern in Emery County with the water users. Straight Canyon is not known for its abundance of fish, so the otter planted there would end up in Joe's Valley and could make their way to Huntington Creek in the canal as well. Joe's Valley has an abundance of chub and it is hoped the otter will use the chub as a food supply.
There isn't a time set for the release of the otter. As nuisance otter become available from other areas they will be transplanted here. A nuisance otter is usually one who has taken up residence at a fish hatchery.
In 1989, the DWR began a river otter reintroduction effort along the Green River in eastern Utah. During this time 67 otters were released along the Green River.
The Straight Canyon site was identified by fishery managers as favorable for reintroduction of otters. There is a steep slope at Joe's Valley Reservoir which can offer cover in times of low water. One concern was the blue head sucker which is reported to be in Joe's Valley Reservoir. There is a conservation agreement that DWR protect those suckers, so it is hoped that species is not vulnerable to the otter. Not that much is known about the lake dwelling blue head suckers. But, a study will have to be done on them if the otter are released in Straight Canyon.
Wright said introduction of the otter in Straight Canyon is consistent with their research goal and they are looking for support and consensus from the public.
Ray Petersen, public lands director for Emery County said the draft MOU was ready to be discussed.
Commissioner Drew Sitterud wondered if the introduction of the otter was just for Straight Canyon. Wright said yes that is where they will be released, but they know they will use Joe's Valley also.
Commissioner Gary Kofford pointed out they could possibly explore Lowry Water and other drainages as well. "What if they get into Potter's Pond or Grassy?"
Wright said the otter are travelers and he doesn't see them decimating any one fishery in the area. He also pointed out with otter in the Green River the otter might naturally end up in these drainages anyway without being released here.
Commissioner Kofford pointed out they may end up in Huntington Creek also.
Johansen had his changes to the cooperative agreement ready for discussion. He requested to add the Bureau of Reclamation as a concurring party to the agreement. In the sentence, The DWR agrees to, 1. "Not seek to compel habitat or water management modifications to benefit river otters that are detrimental to property owners or water distribution companies." Johansen requested that the rest of the sentence after the word otters be deleted. In item 3, Johansen was concerned the DWR could come in and buy water stock to support the release of the otter. He wanted the wording changed on that sentence to be in accordance that the DWR would not ask for special considerations in management of otters or species upon which they feed.
On item 5, he wanted to add a word to read: The DWR agrees to recognize and respect the water rights of users and water managers in Cottonwood Creek and its tributaries.
On item 6 which read, The DWR agrees to not interfere with the efficient removal of beavers damaging public or private property. He wants the word efficient stricken from the sentence and everything after the word beavers stricken from the sentence.
In part B, it read the EWCD and the Cottonwood Creek Consolidated Irrigation Company agree to: Support the translocation of otters to the Straight Canyon/Joe's Valley watershed. Johansen objected to the word support. The wording: on the terms described here in, should also be added to that sentence. Instead of support perhaps the word tolerate could be substituted. The irrigation company doesn't support the introduction of the otter, but they will work with the DWR in their efforts to accomplish the reintroduction.
Johansen said if the above changes are made the irrigation company will sign the agreement.
Wright said the changes will go through the Assistant Attorney General's Office and they will either agree or disagree with the changes.
Johansen pointed out the DWR could always plant the otter elsewhere and then they 'won't have to deal with us.'
Commissioner Sitterud invited Wright to attend the public lands meeting held the second Tuesday of each month. He said this is the best way to get any issues discussed. Wright said he will remember that in the future and he's not sure how the public information part of the otter issue was neglected until just recently. Wright said their lawyer will prepare the document for signatures and will return it to the parties involved as soon as it's ready.