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Judge rules killing of Columbia River sea lions can resume

A federal judge ruled Thursday that authorities in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho can resume killing California sea lions below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, but not as many as federal biologists previously had authorized. (AP Photo)

A federal judge ruled Thursday that authorities in
Washington, Oregon, and Idaho can resume killing
California sea lions below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia
River, but
not as many as federal biologists previously had
authorized.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington, D.C.,
denied the Humane Society of the United States’ request to
stop the killing while allowing a lawsuit challenging the
program to go forward. But he limited the
killing to 30 animals a year instead of the 92 authorized
by federal authorities, and ordered that none of them may
be shot.

“The case will go forward, and we feel we have a very
strong case in the end,” Humane Society marine program
leader Sharon Young said of their third attempt to
permanently halt the killings since they started in
2008.

While challenging the killing of the sea lions, Young says
her organization also supports salmon.

“Because we care about fish recovery, we’ve been opposing
killing sea lions because it isn’t going to help
recovery,” she said.

The floating traps are out and if any of the 92 California
sea lions branded as regular salmon eaters are seen inside
them, the gates will be sprung, and the animals
transported away and then killed by lethal injection, said
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jessica
Sall. California sea lions that hang around the dams
eating salmon, and refuse to leave despite hazing by
rubber bullets and firecrackers, go on a kill list.

Adult salmon and steelhead returning to spawn get bottled
up at the fish ladders over Bonneville, located east of
Portland, Ore. California sea lions, which are federally
protected as marine mammals, but not as threatened or
endangered species, swim about 145 miles upriver to the
dam to feed on the fish in the spring.

The limits imposed by the judge should not pose a problem,
Sall said. The department did not anticipate killing more
than 30 animals in any one year. Over the past four years,
only 41 have been trapped and killed or sent to a zoo or
aquarium. The current authorization from NOAA Fisheries
Service is good for four years.

The Humane Society lawsuit contends that the NOAA
Fisheries Service erred when it decided that sea lions
eating up to 4.2 percent of the fish passing over the dam
amounted to a significant obstacle to the restoration of
endangered salmon, when fishermen are allowed to take up
to 17 percent. It adds that killing sea lions will have no
effect on restoring salmon, which face a greater threat
from fishermen and predation by walleye and bass
introduced into the river for sport fishermen to catch.

Salmon returns to the Columbia Basin in Oregon,
Washington, Idaho and Montana have declined steadily from
harm caused by dams, logging, agriculture, and urban
development since settlement of the region began in the
1840s. Only a small percentage of the fish are wild, with
the great majority produced in hatcheries. There are 14
different types of wild salmon and steelhead in the
Columbia Basin protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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