TAOS — Wild river otters will be swimming and playing in the Rio Grande for the first time in decades next week when Pueblo de Taos, USDA Wildlife Services and the Department of Game and Fish release five otters imported from Washington State.

The adult otters will be released in the Rio Grande Box on Pueblo de Taos land. USDA Wildlife Services planned to deliver the otters to the Pueblo on Sunday. The Department of Game and Fish will allow the animals into the state after reviewing the required health certifications.

Darren Bruning, a Wildlife Services biologist, and Jim Stuart, Department of Game and Fish mammalogist, said the otters will be held in a confinement area for a few days before they are released. 

The release will be the first of several planned by the Department and a diverse group of conservation  partners, including Taos Pueblo, USDA Wildlife Services, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Friends of River Otters, the Department of Game and Fish, and others.

In August 2006, the State Game Commission directed the Department of Game and Fish to proceed with plans to reintroduce river otters to sections of the upper Rio Grande and the upper Gila River. There have been no confirmed sightings of native river otters in the state since the 1950s, but recent reports indicate some otters have migrated to Navajo Lake from Colorado, where they were reintroduced in the 1980s.

The Commission action followed a feasibility study that indicated otter reintroduction efforts could be successful in state waters that formerly were in the otters’ historic range. The study was the result of research by and collaboration with a diverse group of government agencies, the New Mexico River Otter Working Group and members of the public.