Coffee Hour: Wildlife conservation in North America: Science, policy, and politics portrayed through the eyes of the North American river otter

Friday, February 26, 2016 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.

River Otter


About the talk

The reintroduction of mammalian predators often has been met with controversy among citizens near reintroduction sites primarily because of concern for predation of domestic animals and game species (species popular for recreational hunting). The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is an example of a predator widely reintroduced in the United States that has in some cases been negatively depicted in the media because of its predatory habits (i.e., fish eating). The successful reintroduction of river otters in Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois was followed by negative media messages pertaining to otters preying on fish. In contrast, the reintroduction of river otters in Pennsylvania was accompanied by positive media portrayals and overwhelming public support. I review factors that likely contributed to public acceptance of river otter reintroduction in PA, emphasizing the importance of applying social science theory and methodologies as a basis for determining and accurately depicting public attitudes toward reintroduction of mammalian predators. Throughout I critically review elements of the so called “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” in relation to the conservation of the river otter.

About the speaker

Tom SerfassThomas L. Serfass is the chair and professor of Wildlife Ecology in the Department of Biology and Natural Resources at Frostburg State University, and adjunct professor at the Appalachian Laboratory—University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. A large portion of his research and conservation activities has focused on the design, implementation, and evaluation of wildlife restoration programs and recovering wildlife populations, particularly mesocarnioves. Serfass conceived and coordinated the successful Pennsylvania River Otter (Lontra canadensis) and Fisher (Martes pennanti) Reintroduction Projects, and has authored over 40 journal, proceedings, popular articles, and book chapters dealing specifically with river otters, fishers, and wildlife reintroductions. During the past 14 years Serfass has mentored the completion of 38 masters and doctoral students, conducting research ranging from evaluating the fates of river otters reintroduced in western New York to assessing the natural history and conservation value (potential as flagship species) of spotted-necked otters (Lutra maculicollis) and other wildlife at Rubondo Island National Park, Lake Victoria, Tanzania. Serfass is the North American Coordinator of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Otter Specialist Group.

Suggested reading

Thomas L. Serfass , Jennifer A. Bohrman , Sadie S. Stevens , Jeremy T. Bruskotter. "Otters and Anglers Can Share the Stream! The Role of Social Science in Dissuading Negative Messaging About Reintroduced Predators." Human Dimensions of Wildlife. Vol. 19, Iss. 6, 2014. DOI: 10.1080/10871209.2014.928837        

Contact us

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Angela Rogers   office: 814-863-4562  email:

Coffee Hour