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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Removal of sea lions to resume

A sea lion eats a salmon in the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam  last April.  (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
A sea lion eats a salmon in the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam last April. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
By JOSEPH B. FRAZIER Associated Press

PORTLAND – A federal judge Thursday denied a request by the Humane Society of the United States for a stay of his order allowing three Western states to resume capturing or killing sea lions that feed on salmon at the base of Bonneville Dam.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman ruled in November against the Humane Society, which is trying to prevent Oregon, Washington and Idaho from killing or transporting up to 425 California sea lions over five years to relieve pressure on the spring chinook salmon run. The killing or removal of sea lions could begin as early as March 1.

Humane Society spokeswoman Sharon Young said Mosman’s ruling Thursday was disappointing, but not unexpected. She said an appeal would be filed.

Young questioned the logic of killing or removing the sea lions when a near-record run of 300,000 fish is predicted. Moreover, the Humane Society contends that the number of salmon taken by sea lions is insignificant compared to the amount taken by fishermen or birds, or killed by hydroelectric dams.

It calls the decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service permitting the removal “arbitrary and capricious,” and out of sync with the 1972 Marine Mammals Protection Act that protects the sea lions, which are no longer threatened or endangered.

Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, called Thursday’s motion a “Hail Mary” attempt by the Humane Society to delay the removal or killing.

He praised Mosman for seeing the controversy as an issue between species, not individual animals or fish, and for the judge’s opinion that removing the animals would increase the number of salmon and steelhead making it past the dam to spawning grounds but would not significantly affect the abundant sea lion population.

The sides agreed last year that sea lions known to be repeat offenders, identifiable by branding or scars, would be trapped rather than killed, if possible, and sent to aquarium zoos or similar facilities.

But a one-year moratorium went into effect after six sea lions died after they were caught in traps at the base of the dam. No definitive cause of death was announced. The moratorium ends March 1.

The three states asked for authority to remove the sea lions in 2006, after failed attempts to shoo them away with firecrackers and beanbags fired from shotguns.

In 1994, Congress passed an amendment to the 1972 act that permits the government to allow states to kill sea lions that are hurting threatened or endangered salmon.

Mosman ruled in November that “the statutory text is the authoritative statement of Congress’s intent,” and the government is not required to consider other reasons for the decline of salmon stocks.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calculates that based on observation, the sea lions have taken from between 0.4 percent and 4.2 percent of the run each year between 2002 and 2007. The size of the annual runs can vary greatly.

Fishermen are allowed about 12 percent.

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