"River Otters Rebounding With Hospitable Habitat"

"It's wild times in the watershed. The most happy-go-lucky denizen of Bay Area creeks is back, after a hiatus of at least three decades: the river otter."

"'They look like they're having a wonderful time out there. It's really exciting to see,' said Steve Bobzien, a wildlife ecologist for the East Bay Regional Park District. 'Plus, it's a really good biological indicator of the health of the ecosystem.'

From Antioch to Tomales Bay, park visitors have reported otters rolling in mud, gnawing on crayfish, sliding down rocks and generally partying on the creek banks. A Marin group has even created an Otter Spotter website, where the public can log their otter sightings on an interactive map and learn more about the charismatic carnivores.

'The more we look for otters, the more we find. It seems like they're everywhere,' said Megan Isadore, a naturalist from Forest Knoll who started the River Otter Ecology Project and Otter Spotter website. 'It's wonderful - everyone loves otters.'

Otters were once found in almost every creek and lake in Northern California, but their numbers seriously dwindled until the 1970s because of hunting, habitat loss and pollution. Particularly harmful was mercury, which seeped into the crayfish, clams, mussels and other shellfish that otters dine on.

But the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, California environmental laws, antihunting regulations and open space preservation have helped make the waterways more hospitable for otters. They're still threatened, but they appear to be rebounding, biologists said."

Carolyn Jones reports for the San Francisco Chronicle April 15, 2012.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 04/16/2012