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Sea Shepherd issues call for Dam Guardians to halt sea lion cull Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Mar 23, 2012 in Environment
Portland - The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is considering descending on Bonneville dam to protest the imminent culling of California sea lions, after a US Humane Society lawsuit curtailed but failed to halt the killing.
Sea Shepherd's call-to-arms followed more than a week's worth of outrage from animals welfare groups who are opposing a plan by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to lethally remove up to 92 California sea lions from the Bonneville Dam area in an effort to protect salmon.
On March 15, the NOAA announced it had authorized wildlife agencies from the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to shoot federally protected California sea lions. Claiming the seals are predators of endangered salmon, the total number of seals killed could top 460 over the next five years. The culling of the first 92 sea lions was scheduled to begin March 20.
Sea Shepherd, one of several wildlife protection agencies protesting the culling, said yesterday, "several groups of people in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho want to blame these sea lions for "taking their fish" and have used the sea lion as a scapegoat, even though the amount of salmon caught by these sea lions equals approximately only 1%."
Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) agreed, calling the plan illegal:
"The National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to kill hundreds of native marine mammals to reduce salmon losses by a couple of percentage points at best, while simultaneously authorizing much larger man-made sources of endangered salmon mortality, is both outrageous and patently illegal."
On March 19, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Wild Fish Conservancy and two individual plaintiffs filed suit in federal court, to stop NMFS. But yesterday, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington, D.C., denied the request saying the killing at the dam could continue while the lawsuit goes forward. Boasberg did limit the killing to 30 animals a year instead of the authorized 92, and ordered the seals euthanized, not shot.
The reasons offered by NMFS for the culling of the seals doesn't add up, suggest wildlife groups, who have been consistently chipping away at the logic behind the proposed cull. HSUS said:
"In 2010, when the sea lions consumed less than 2 percent of the salmon run, fisheries harvested 17 percent of these same fish. In 2011, sea lions consumed just over 1 percent of the salmon run at the same time that Oregon and Washington permitted fisheries in the Columbia River to harvest as much as 12 percent of the very same run."
Furthermore, added the Humane Society, "only two California sea lions had been seen at the dam, the fewest to date of any year since 2003 and the time each animal spends at the dam has been steadily declining over the past few years."
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society claims the agency is looking at the wrong culprit. "Although sea lions do eat fish," they said, "they only consume between 0.4% and 4.2% of the 80,000 to 300,000 salmon that spawn in the Columbia River each year." Human fishing they added, accounts for 16% of the adult salmon from the river, while non-native sport-fishing species consume up to 3 million young salmon a year and birds eat up to 18 percent.
Sandy McElhaney an administrator of Save Misty the Dolphin (SMTD), a social media campaign committed to ending the slaughter of vulnerable marine mammals worldwide, called NMFS plans into question and urged people to dig a little deeper.
McElhaney, who is also a writer with The Examiner, said people need to consider the history of James H. Lecky, Director of the Office of Protected Resources and the person responsible for authorizing the cull.
Lecky, McElhaney claims in an article published Mar. 16:
"Brings an interesting history to his present position. In 2002 the bureaucrat gave an illegal order to signficantly cut in-stream flows on the Klamath River. This action lead to the death of at least 33,000 salmon (some endangered) on the Klamath River."
Evidence of Lecky's misdeed was apparently supported by testimony from Mike Kelly, a former USFWS and NOAA Fisheries Biologist, to the House Natural Resources Committee in 2007. Kelly, worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from 1995 to 2000 and with NOAA Fisheries (NMFS) from 2000 to 2004 during the Klamath incident. Kelly alleged:
"The US District Court for the Northern District of California (Case #C-02-2006) found the NMFS 2002 BiOp for the 10-year Klamath Project Operations Plan to be illegal on three separate points. [...] I hope to clearly demonstrate to the Committee that NMFS’ final decision was no accident, and that someone at a higher level than the regional NMFS office was responsible for forcing the illegal action."
The 'someone' at a higher level writes McElhaney was Lecky, who forced Kelly to "conclude, contrary to available evidence, that sharply reduced flows would not adversely affect federally protected salmon. “I was asked to make 1 + 1 = 3,” he stated, noting that the order was both “bizarre” and illegal."
After the Klamath fish killing incident, Lecky was promoted to his current position as Director of Protected Resources for NFMS. Considering his past McElhaney queried, "how is it that the federal employee who is responsible for making an illegal decision that resulted in the death of thousands of protected salmon now gets to authorize the death of 92 sea lions - for eating salmon?"
SMTD has launched its own protest to the seal cull via an online petition which will be sent to Lecky and six other agencies, including NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region and the Departments of Fish and Game for Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
But the opposition isn't ending there. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is now considering a more active role in the protection of Bonneville's sea lions. In a statement released yesterday, the society refused to:
"Ignore this slaughter-which might soon occur on the U.S.’s doorstep."
The conservation group, fresh off its anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean added that it is currently gauging interest for a new campaign designed to protect the Bonneville sea lions:
"We have experience with documenting senseless slaughter. Perhaps we will need to institute a "Dam Guardian" campaign at the Bonneville Dam. How many volunteers would be willing to come to the dam and help?"
With a posse of passionate activists who support the society across an international stage, volunteers are often eager to rise to any challenge, and they could make life very difficult for agencies involved. It is a move McElhaney said she would welcome with open arms:
"Save Misty the Dolphin is thrilled that Captain Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have joined forces with the Humane Society of the United States to save the scapegoated sea lions at Bonneville Dam.
Just as Captain Watson and his crew work tirelessly to defend the whales of the Southern Ocean and the dolphins of Taiji, we have every confidence they will do what needs to be done to defend these vulnerable marine mammals from a senseless death. We encourage everyone reading this article to support the Dam Guardian campaign and to be sure to sign and share our petition at Change.org."
The SMTD administrator also urged people to watch the video below. Filmed February 27, 2009, the clip covers a press conference held at Bonneville Dam by ODFW (Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife), U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers, CRITFC (Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission), Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife) and NOAA Fisheries - National Marine Fisheries Service.
"It's a real eyeopener," McElhaney said.
Bonneville Lock and Dam Project is located 145 river miles from the mouth of the Columbia River and about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon, near Cascade Locks, Ore., and North Bonneville, Washington.
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