Congress did the right thing by making it easier to kill sea lions that prey on salmon in the Columbia River Basin, something a state task force recently recommended to help endangered orcas.
When it comes to helping endangered orcas, Congress just knocked an important item off Washington state’s lengthy to-do list.
The U.S. House and Senate have passed a measure that will make it easier to kill sea lions that feast on protected salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin. The bill will help protect the billions of government dollars already invested in salmon preservation, without causing long-term harm to sea-lion populations.
Congress should be commended for finally agreeing on this common-sense fix.
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Passing the federal measure was included as one of several recommendations from Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca recovery task force last month. The bill, S. 3119, allows state and tribal wildlife managers to target sea lions that travel far up into the Columbia River and its tributaries, where the animals have been known to gobble up tens of thousands of endangered and protected fish.
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Other actions will certainly be needed. But this bill offers an immediate life preserver to some of the region’s chinook salmon, a crucial food source for the critically endangered southern resident orcas.
Federal researchers estimated that a quarter of last year’s spring chinook inexplicably disappeared last year on their way from the mouth of the Columbia River to Bonneville Dam, with sea-lion predation most likely to blame.
State officials say they would need to kill only a few hundred sea lions to make a difference. That would have little effect on the booming population of California sea lions, which has rebounded from about 30,000 animals in the 1960s to nearly 300,000 today.
A permitting process and an annual cap on sea-lion killings will apply, ensuring the program doesn’t get out of hand.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell deserve credit for helping unite their colleagues behind this important bill. The president should sign the legislation into law without delay.
Ample work remains to ensure the future of Puget Sound’s salmon and southern resident orcas.
Still, passing this bill helps protect fish populations in the short-term, buying time for politicians to work on broader environmental reforms.