Scapegoating Spreads: Danger Grows for Sea Lions on Other Rivers
Seven sea lions have already been murdered on the Columbia by wildlife "managers" this year. The number would have been much greater, but it seems that the sea lions have not been cooperating with the project recently. However, they could still be killed at any time, anywhere, so long as they are on the "hit list" and not in their rookeries in the South. It has now come to light that "lethal removal" of protected marine mammals is being considered an option on other rivers, all down the coast, just as advocates had feared, and in spite of government denials that this would happen.
When the states sought permission to kill sea lions at Bonneville dam, advocates strongly opposed the plan, saying that it would lead to end-runs around the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and that it would set a dangerous precedent. The government vehemently denied those claims, stating in part of the section 120 proposal that "The proposed action will not establish a precedent for future actions." Unfortunately, this was yet another untruth, in a long series of untruths that have marked this program from the very beginning. In actual fact, this program IS being used to set a very dangerous precedent, that could mean the end of protections for marine mammals on the entire west coast. It turns out that the Columbia river killing program is, in fact, a test case — one that is being very carefully watched by wildlife managers and fishing industry lobbyists all down the coast. Secretly, groundwork is already being laid in preparation for section 120 waivers on the Rogue, the Alsea, and many other rivers from Washington to Oregon to California. Even in Alaska, predator "management" programs are being explored with regard to killing marine mammals in order to protect the fishing industry. If it turns out that killing sea lions on the Columbia is easier than dealing with the real issues behind salmon extinction, these operations are expected to kick into high gear in the near future. This is why resistance is so very important on the Columbia: This is the Front Line. Many lives are hanging in the balance.
In order to comply with the section 120 loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act, wildlife "managers" must meet certain requirements. While these requirements tend not to be very stringent from the perspective of those who would prefer to see protections remain in place, they are nevertheless a necessary hurdle that the states must get over before proceeding with killing protected species. Among those requirements, they must gather data on sea lion predation, they must be able to identify specific animals, and they must demonstrate that they engaged in non-lethal hazing before moving on to lethal removal. (Theoretically, they are supposed to show that the non-lethal hazing did not work before they can kill marine mammals. However, here on the Columbia we have found that, although evidence is clear that hazing is impacting predation, officials only had to say that the hazing did not work "enough" before the waiver was granted.)
So if one were interested to see where killing programs are being considered, one would look for indicators that suggest attempts to meet those criteria. Basically, when you see wildlife "managers" setting up shop to observe sea lion "predation events," when they begin trying to identify and catalogue specific animals, and particularly when they start with hazing programs, you can bet that proposals are being crafted behind the scenes for section 120 waivers.
Such programs are already underway in the following locations:
In Oregon: There are hazing programs already set up on the Alsea and the Rogue rivers. "Pinniped predation study sites" are set up on the Willamette river, the Umpqua river, and here on the Columbia. While the killing has already begun on the Columbia, with 14 lives lost so far, it appears very likely that similar programs could begin soon on those other rivers if this kind of misguided "management" is not stopped here.
In Washington: Pinniped predation study sites are set up on Hood canal, on the Ozette river and lake, the Duwamish river, Ballard locks, and of course on the Columbia.
In California: Pinniped predation sites are set up on the San Lorenzo river, the Klamath river, the Mad river, Scott Creek, and the Smith river.
In all of these locations, sea lions and salmon have interacted for thousands of years. Yet it has only been since the arrival of mega dams and the commercial fishing industry that the salmon are in peril. It is clear to any objective witness that the real problems with salmon recovery have nothing to do with natural, native predators, and everything to do with the very mindset being demonstrated by the people who are now promising to "manage" away the problem by killing native wildlife. It is as if they are promoting a "fight fire with fire" approach; only in this case, it's "fight screw-up with screw-up." The more mistakes that wildlife managers make, the more they seem to compound those mistakes with the same approach: Killing.
"If killing too many salmon was detrimental to the survival of the species, maybe we should try killing off all the other species surrounding them, so that we can fix the problem we initially caused by killing too many salmon... by killing." When we put it this way, there is clearly something inherently wrong with this approach. Indeed, it would almost be funny except that so many lives have already been lost and so many ecosystems already damaged irreparably by this kind of thinking. Yet this is exactly the approach that wildlife "managers" take any time they step in to "correct" problems with the environment. How much killing is finally enough? When do we begin to deal with the problems we have caused in the natural world by simply stopping the killing? When do we start dealing with the real problems behind, for example, salmon extinction, and stop trying to externalize the fallout of our own endeavors onto other species?
The fact is, over-fishing, dams, and the thoughtless exploitation of the Columbia river ecosystem have brought the salmon, and countless other species, to the brink of extinction. The same forces have caused the collapse of virtually every fishery on earth. No amount of predator-killing can compensate for that. And yet, officials are wasting valuable time, scarce resources, and precious lives on misguided schemes like this one.
Officials would like to place the burden of salmon recovery upon other species rather than our own. This is, perhaps, an understandable desire, in that it is politically very dicey to talk about ending the exploitation of salmon by the fishing industry, or to talk seriously about breaching dams. It's much easier to kill off unarmed sea lions than to aggravate fishing, power, and agricultural industry magnates. It is also more in line with the organizational interests of the agencies managing our wildlife: Their budgets come, in large part, from the fees they charge for animals who are killed, and not from animals that are protected. They get paid by fishermen for allowing salmon to be killed, and they get paid by taxpayers to "help" those fishermen out by killing sea lions. So for all these reasons, it is understandable that they would seek to place the burden and the blame upon sea lions or predatory birds, rather than on over-fishing or dams. However, this approach has one monumental flaw: It will simply not work. We cannot save the salmon until we address the actual causes of their decline, and the sea lions are not that cause.
Killing sea lions will not save the salmon on the Columbia, and it will not save the salmon of the Rogue, the Alsea, the San Lorenzo, the Klamath, the Mad, or any of the other rivers where the dark clouds of desperation and ignorance are gathering above the waves. One way or another, in the end, the fishing will be over. It is the only way to stop the extinction of the salmon. Either we stop the fishing long enough for the runs to recover, or the fishing stops forever because the salmon are extinct. It's time to stop coddling the fishing industry and really save the salmon. It's time for those of us who care about salmon recovery, and about native wildlife, to stand up here, on the Front Lines of Cascadia, before the killing spreads.
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