Let's Try Riflesby Editorial Board
The Columbian, June 26, 2007
Bill to speed up approval processfor getting rid of sea lions deserves a shot
In an April 5, 1995, letter to the sports section of The Columbian, Duke Wager of Vancouver wrote that for at least the previous six years sea lions had been swimming upstream from the ocean to feast on endangered salmon and steelhead at Bonneville Dam.
That's nearly two decades. It is past time to try to cut down on this ongoing pig-out by sea mammals that are not in danger of extinction themselves but nonetheless are protected by out-of-date laws. House Resolution 1769, sponsored by congressmen Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, and Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, just might cut into the feast by making it easier to let wildlife officials shoot the predators at the dam.
"You have a federal protection for the 100,000 sea lions feeding on 14,000 or fewer protected salmon," Wager wrote in 1995. "Seals and sea lions must be eliminated from the Astoria Bridge to Bonneville Dam."
"Elimination" of the species from the ocean to the dam 146 miles upstream is not intended by HR 1769 and is probably impossible anyway. But sea lions are abundant and salmon and steelhead (sea-going rainbow trout) that make it upstream via the fish ladders are not. Shooting a few is worth a try.
At worst, sharpshooters would be unable to kill enough of them to make a difference and the surviving sea lions wouldn't be scared off.
At best, passage of HR 1769 would lead to a thinning of the ranks of the salmon-gobbling predators and yield a substantial increase in endangered fish getting over the ladders to spawn.
A story in Monday's Columbian by The Associated Press reported that three years of nonlethal efforts to drive sea lions away from the dam have not worked.
Jim Ruff of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council ( www.nwcouncil.org ) in Portland offered this glimpse Monday of the bite the mammals are taking out of fish at Bonneville: 75,000 adult spring chinook made it upstream through the fish ladders as of June 11 this year, but spotters counted 3,600 salmon and steelhead (mostly salmon) being devoured by sea lions before they could make it up the ladders. Spotters also counted 361 sturgeon taken by sea lions at the dam, 55 of them five feet or longer.
But HR 1769 seems to be languishing in the subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife and oceans of the full House Natural Resources Committee. No hearings are scheduled, although Baird's office said Monday it expects hearings sometime this summer.
In the meantime, sea lion apologists are at work. The Society for Animal Protective Legislation last month sent a "Dear Humanitarian" newsletter urging citizens to contact their representatives urging they oppose the bill.
The group cites other contributing causes to the fish problem, including construction of dams in the first place. That's true, but why not see if shooting a few sea lions will help restore the fish runs?
Ruff said two specific identifiable sea lions hanging around the dam and feeding on salmon have been especially problematic. He ponders what their demise could mean.
"Once all the nonlethal approaches have been tested and tried and proven ineffective," Ruff said, "if you take out a problem animal or two the others will probably scatter."
Let's find out.
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