Over the last decade, these furry gourmands – many of them well-known to wildlife biologists – have stationed themselves in that bottleneck, feasting to their hearts’ content. They pose a particular threat to the spring run of Upper Columbia Chinook, one of the endangered species Northwesterners have spent hundreds of millions of dollars protecting.
The sea lions themselves are generally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but their numbers are plentiful and the law allows particular animals to be harassed or shot if they prey on endangered salmon. Harassment has consistently failed on some of them – they are smart enough to figure out when humans aren’t serious.
Enter the animal rights activists, some of whom view the killing of sea lions as tantamount to murder. Don’t confuse them with real environmentalists, who lie awake at night worrying about the survival of whole species of animals, not individuals.
The sea lions’ defenders say humans are to blame: They made the dams and they fish for salmon. True enough, but the dams aren’t going anywhere, tribal fishing rights aren’t going anywhere, and fishing is already tightly managed to minimize damage to threatened runs.
The Ninth Circuit bought into part of the animal rights argument last November and ordered a stop to an extremely limited hunt that had been approved by federal wildlife agencies.
The agencies tried to address the judges’ issues and last month renewed their permission to shoot problem animals. But the litigation – and the many months it takes to get shooting approved – demonstrates why Congress ought to approve a measure co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, and Norm Dicks, D-Belfair.
Their legislation would make it far easier for agencies to approve the shooting of individual sea lions whose consumption of endangered salmon has been documented and who couldn’t be stopped by non-lethal harassment.
It’s hard to believe there’s even a dispute here. Protecting a few dozen animals at the expense of an entire species would be a good working definition of ecological insanity.