HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
Last month, a Portland, Ore.-based federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that asked the court to declare illegal a federally approved program to remove California sea lions lethally or otherwise that have been feeding on Endangered Species Act-listed salmon below Bonneville Dam.
The removal program has been on-again-off-again since March 2008, when Idaho, Oregon and Washington received federal authorization to remove as many as 92 of the sea lions annually known to be preying on salmon and steelhead in the lower Columbia. It was later decreed that a 30 pinniped limit be imposed for the 2012 season.
The Columbia Basin Bulletin reported in its Feb. 22 issue that the states say control measures are necessary to limit predation impacts on ESA listed fish. However, the Humane Society of the United States, the Wild Fish Conservancy and two individuals are challenging the removal authorization. They say the removal program is illegal persecution of sea lions, and that NOAA Fisheries has in the past authorized fish harvest and dams that cause a much greater salmon morality than sea lions. The Humane Society is not willing to accept Judge Michael H. Simon’s decision that concluded NMFS did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when it ordered the lethal removal authorization to the states. As they have in the past, Humane Society officials said they are going to appeal the decision
Steller sea lions (SSL) at Bonneville are slightly less abundant this year than the past two years, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report. The maximum number of SSL seen any day so far this year at the dam was 21. However, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) observers report there is no shortage of sea lions in the lower river. Through Feb. 20, approximately 30 SSL were documented visiting the dam.
The SSLs were observed taking one chinook, 27 steelhead and 251 white sturgeon in the waters below the dam. They have also taken 64 chad and 51 fish of undetermined species. Researchers believe most of the unknown fish are likely sturgeons that tend to gather in winter below the dam.
California sea lion numbers at Bonneville Dam generally begin to build in March and peak in April and May, when fish numbers are at their highest. By the end of May, they move out of the Columbia system when spring salmon numbers dwindle and breeding duties call.
The removal program conducted in April and May 2012 resulted in 12 of the animals being removed. Eleven were euthanized via lethal injection and one was shipped to a Midwest aquarium. Another designated for removal was captured later in the season near the river mouth at Astoria. State officials say they expect to begin the 2013 sea lion trapping effort in late March.
Is there any end in sight to the ongoing controversy over the lethal removal of California sea lions that prey on Endangered Species Act-protected salmon below Bonneville Dam? It sure doesn’t look like it. After five years of controversy and legal haggling, the sea lion/salmon issue needs to be resolved one way or the other, and whatever the outcome, both sides need to live with it. After all, enough is enough.
Multi-season hunting permits
Hunters have until March 31 to apply for multiple–season permits. In mid April, the WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits. Permits are $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for non-residents and can be purchased at an authorized license dealer. A 2013 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.