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Lethal removal of sea lions cleared to proceed

February 26, 2009 |  5:47 pm


Wildlife authorities in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have won legal authority to begin killing sea lions eating endangered salmon at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of appeals refused to extend a stay blocking the lethal removals, which officials say will commence as early as next month if they are unable to find homes for more than 70 sea lions which have repeatedly flocked to the dam to feed on the dwindling spring Chinook salmon run.

Guy Norman, a spokesman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has volunteered to take two of any sea lions captured in the traps, which will begin operating in March, and federal wildlife authorities are continuing to look for other zoos and aquariums willing to take on the problem predators. But several were already relocated last year, and options are running out.

“We’ll begin by the relocation program that started last year, and it’s likely we’ll get into lethal removal after that,” Norman said. He said targeted sea lions caught in the traps for whom no homes can be found will be euthanized by lethal injection. Those who refuse to enter the traps may be shot.

“The fact that they specifically requested permission to kill in the water tells me they may be saying pleasant things about lethal injection because it alarms the public to think they may be kayaking in the river and have a body float by, or taking a hike in a park and see a wounded sea lion by the side of the river,” said Sharon Young, the Humane Society’s field director for marine issues.

While the appeals court rejected a new emergency stay, the plaintiffs still hope to prevail on the merits when the full case comes before a different panel of the court, Young said, though the  three-judge panel hearing the stay said environmental groups had failed to demonstrate that they were likely to win the pending appeal.

Two of the three judges who considered the emergency stay request have relatively conservative track records. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski was appointed by President Reagan and Ronald M. Gould, though named to the bench by President Clinton, and often sides with the Republican appointees. Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, the third man on the panel, was also appointed by Clinton during the years when the Republicans controlled Congress and had the power to reject nominees considered too liberal.

-- Carol J. Williams and Kim Murphy

Photo: National Marine Fisheries Service