Oregon wildlife officials are asking the federal government for the authority to kill federally protected California sea lions that are driving a species of fish to extinction, The Washington Post reported Monday.
Officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) want to trap and kill, at most, 92 sea lions annually. The sea lions are eating winter steelhead at Willamette Falls near Portland at unsustainable rates. The problem has persisted for years and state biologists said the trout has a 90-percent chance of extinction if nothing is done, according to WaPo.
“We know what the problem is and have seen this coming for about a decade, we just couldn’t take action to prevent it,” ODFW marine expert Shaun Clements said in an August 2017 statement.
The California sea lion population, protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), has recovered from a low of about 10,000 in the 1950s to roughly 300,000 now. The species is at its “carrying capacity,” or nearing the upper limit of what its habitat can sustainably support, according to Washington wildlife officials. (RELATED: Report: Feds Are Wasting Billions Protecting ‘Endangered’ Animals That Are Just Fine)
Oregon officials have shortened or cut fishing seasons in several locations to give the steelhead room to recover. The ODFW has also tried trapping and relocating seals that feed on steelhead traveling through Willamette Falls to upriver breeding grounds. Officials captured 11 seals, marked them and drove them to the coast over two hours away. Every seal was back at the falls within a week.
Officials have also tried other non-lethal methods including fireworks, rubber bullets and a mechanical orca to scare off the sea lions, but the animals get used to the harassment and ignore it after a short time, according to WaPo.
Under the MMPA, states can request permission to use lethal force to remove individual sea lions that are having a significant impact on endangered salmon runs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration authorized Idaho, Oregon and Washington to kill 92 sea lions a year in 2012. The authorization timed out in May 2016.
Environmentalists said Oregon officials are misdiagnosing the problem and human development is more responsible for the struggling fish than the sea lions, WaPo reported.
“The impacts of the US Army Corps’ dams, major habitat loss, and the advent of hatcheries brought us to this point over the past decades,” Willamette Riverkeeper executive director Travis Williams said in a statement in August 2017. “It has been nearly 20 years since winter steelhead were listed, and ODFW doesn’t really seem to reflect that in their recent PR effort regarding sea lions.”
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