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Ecology and salmon related articles

Sea Lions Could Use a Little Jail Time

by Bill Monroe
The Oregonian, May 8, 2005

And so it begins.

With as much hoopla ashore as hazing afloat, state and federal agents last week began the long road toward rescuing the Columbia River's spring chinook run from marauding marine mammals.

Noisemakers, boats, bombs, media and onlookers were below the Bonneville fish ladders trying to bar the salmon ladder door to hungry sea lions.

"I think the only thing missing out there is Tommy Lee Jones," quipped one editor at The Oregonian.

We all hope it will be more than simply another media event.

Hazing is how the long effort was launched at Ballard Locks in Seattle a decade ago when sea lions decimated an entire healthy winter steelhead run while biologists and the public wrung their hands over the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

After years of human infighting, it ended with imprisonment of some of the mammals, the well-publicized death of at least one sea lion, exile to a marine park of others and technological changes at the locks.

All that over a handful of flippered pests below a waterway roughly the size of the Clackamas River.

Imagine the hullabaloo surrounding 500 or more of them at one of the world's major dams, eating up one already endangered species and turning more recently to spawning sturgeon.

We should cut to the chase, use the precedent and lock a few sea lions in the hoosegow.

After last week's brief call to action, dozens responded predictably with a red-necked call to arms -- firearms, that is. Catchy, perhaps, but also preposterous. No one should even be carrying a firearm on the river (well, OK, except for duck hunting) much less use it on a sea lion, much less have to worry about high-velocity bullets skipping up and downriver for miles.

Jail time, however, seems valid.

Lock the sea lions up. Build a holding pen first, not last, instead of wandering through the legal processes for a few seasons after the hazing doesn't work.

The lawyers can sort it out after the sea lions are jailed, not before.

There's plenty of room for holding pens in Astoria's East Mooring Basin -- and plenty of food coming up, too.

Feed them pikeminnows.

Heed this reader's voice:

"I live in West Linn on the Willamette River and fish it for salmon. I have been observing seals and sea lions for several years, along with what is provided by the media.

"The problem with the mammals will continue to worsen until authorities deal with it. It would surprise no one if a sea lion or seal got hurt or killed, but worse yet, a human could easily be injured by one of these mammals.

"I have no problem with a protected species in their environment, but they are way out of bounds traveling from the ocean to fish ladders to feed on salmon, and now sturgeon."

(Note: Yes, indeed, marine mammals historically worked the river in its natural state. But there's nothing natural about a Columbia River dammed and harnessed into a highway of commerce and producing the Northwest's energy heartbeat. We can't go back.)

"If there are more than 300,000 of these creatures, the world would not miss a few taken either out of the gene pool or relocated far, far away. Similar situations exist in national parks with bears. When a bear is delinquent, threatens humans, it is captured and relocated, or put down.

"Way too much is spent on preserving salmon runs to allow this kind of jeopardy. The interests of the sport fishery, retailers, marine biologists, Native Americans, and all the other contingencies far outweigh the meager interests of a few greedy mammals that are a threat to protected fish and now humans, given their boldness in pursuing their prey.

"It's a no-brainer, get the priorities right, and get 'em out of here!"

-- David J. Froode, West Linn

Stay tuned: Gary Benson, co-president of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders and a key player in championing our rights to access on navigable rivers, is prepared to chide the state legislature for skirting navigability issues over more than 146 years.

Perhaps soon to be 148.

Two of three bills that would codify public access easements to waterways apparently are dead in Salem, leaving one -- a bill that would require a new $20 permit/license for every boat on a river and/or require registration of all boats, not just those with motors.

Further, said the Steelheaders' river access director, Art Israelson, Senate Bill 1028 could establish a committee weighted to landowners and empowered to ban boating on selected waters.

Israelson and the Steelheaders concede problems landowners have with some boaters -- litter, trespass, etc. -- and that registration might be in order.

"But that's a separate issue," he said.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Attorney General's Office has issued an opinion that boaters and waders not only already have the right to use navigable rivers, but also may leave the riverbank onto private land to avoid obstacles, as long as they make a reasonable attempt to return as soon as they can.

Almost certainly, if the bill is passed and somehow unbelievably signed by the governor, SB1028 would be challenged; if for no other reason on the grounds that it violates a constitutional pledge of free river access -- just like Oregon's beaches.

The bill appears to be losing steam as it potentially heads for another hearing.

And, Israelson points out, the attorney general's opinion is far from binding on local district attorneys.

Anyone starting a to-do list for the 2007 session?

Bill Monroe
Sea Lions Could Use a Little Jail Time
The Oregonian, May 8, 2005

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