I've been looking for an excuse to get outdoors and travel more often, and now that I know I might spot otters here in Texas, I think I've found it.

Texas Parks and Wildlife reports that East Texas' river otter population might be growing after decades of dwindling numbers.

According to TPWD, river otters are considered a "sentinel species" because of their sensitivity to pollution. That's good news for people looking for warning signs of environmental contamination, but awful news for otters who lose their homes and lives due to poor water quality, loss of wetlands, and unregulated hunting.

Today, the otters seem to be growing in number, and TPWD reports sightings as far west as Austin. Not only have they been observed recolonizing much of their native ranges along our Gulf Coast, but there have even been reports of their moving overland to new habitats as far inland as the Llana River in the Hill Country and along streams that feed into the Red River upstream from Wichita Falls.

iNaturalist.org features an interactive map that logs sightings of the North American River Otter. As I was playing around with the map, I noticed a sighting in Bell County reported a few miles southeast of Salado in July of 2017. Unfortunately, that otter had been killed while trying to cross a paved road. Sadly, there's been an increase in such incidents as the otters have started to thrive.

inaturalist.org

Still, it's good to see so much blue on the Texas map. Sighting these little guys in the wilderness would be such a great experience. I'm already planning a road trip!