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Sea Lions' Days Numbered at Bonneville Dam

by Staff, March 2, 2009

Starting this week (3/1/09), the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have federal permission to kill sea lions that prey on endangered salmon in the Columbia River. State wildlife biologists have set floating traps on the river just below Bonneville Dam. Correspondent Tom Banse has details and reaction from the scene.

Like clockwork, sea lions have begun to congregate below the spillways and fish ladder of Bonneville Dam. For some of them, their days are numbered. Wildlife biologists including Washington State's Steve Jeffries have prepared a most-wanted list.

Jeffries: "It's a list of individually identified animals that are repeat predators."

The salmon predators are about to become prey themselves. Oregon and Washington have permission to remove up to 85 sea lions per year. Steve Jeffries doubts the full quota will be taken out this year. For starters, the first eight or so captured off the list will be sent to marine parks or aquariums. Subsequent captives can be killed by lethal injection or a shot to the head. Jeffries is hopeful this is not the start of an endless cycle of killing.

Jeffries: "We're actively hazing to keep new animals from recruiting into the population. No one knows what is going to happen in the future, but removal of the problem animals coupled with... can keep new animals out of here we believe."

Both sea lions and Columbia River salmon are protected under federal law. But sea lion populations are robust and some salmon runs are not.

Fishermen are glad some sea lions will be killed. Yakama tribal fisher and councilwoman Fidelia Andy says predation on salmon has reached an unacceptable level.

Andy: "The sea lions here on the Columbia River are causing destitution to us as tribal fishermen. That's what we're trying to avoid. We'd like to get that 4000 salmon that they're taking."

Animal defense groups picketed as wildlife managers demonstrated their plans at Bonneville Dam. Sheila Brown of Portland says the sea lions are being scapegoated.

Brown: "At the same time as they're talking about killing the sea lions, the quota for fishermen has gone up. So there's absolutely no reason to kill the sea lions. It's kind of just a cover. It's a feel good move to make people think we're doing something to save the salmon."

The Humane Society is still fighting to save the sea lions in court. Their appeal won't go to trial until late summer. By then, the trapping season at the Dam should be more-or-less over. I'm Tom Banse reporting from Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

Sea Lions' Days Numbered at Bonneville Dam, March 2, 2009

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