As expected, federal officials on Friday approved a program to kill up to 716 sea lions along a nearly 200-mile stretch of the Columbia River and its tributaries in an effort to protect salmon at risk of extinction.

The program is a significant step-up in existing efforts, and will be in place for five years.

Targeted are both Steller’s and California sea lions, which will be darted with lethal levels of tranquilizing drugs by authorized teams from states and tribes.

Barry Thom, administrator for the West Coast Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approved the program Friday, following the recommendation of a task force. It’s based on the implementation of a law passed by Congress in 2018 allowing the kill program.

Kill operations could begin at Bonneville Dam as soon as this fall.