And Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Trump stooge in Congress
PORTLAND, Oregon––As many as 540 California sea lions and up to 176 Stellar sea lions are to be sacrificed to placate frustrated recreational salmon fishers, beginning during the run-up to the November 2020 election and continuing throughout what would be President Donald Trump’s second term if re-elected.
The sea lion killing may especially help Washington Third District Representative Jaime Herrera-Beutler, 42, second in seniority among Republican members of the House of Representatives from West Coast states. Considered a rising star within the Republican Party, Herrera-Beutler is facing a stiff challenge in November 2020 from Washington State University professor Carolyn Long.
Beutler has favored Trump policies in 88.5% of her Congressional votes.
Beutler wrote law that allows expanded sea lion killing
Beutler won 68,961 votes in the August 4, 2020 Washington primary election, but Long won 57,798 votes, other Democratic challengers took more than 21,000 votes, and more than 14,000 dissatisfied voters favored two other Republicans in the race.
First elected in 2010, and up for re-election in November 2020, along with all other House of Representative members, Beutler introduced a 2018 bill that amended the Marine Mammal Protection Act to expedite killing sea lions to reduce predation on salmon and other species.
Beutler, however, in line with Trump administration policy which she appears to have all but written, vehemently opposes removing four dams on the lower Snake River that are strongly implicated in the decline of salmon throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Built to facilitate barge traffic, the four dams also help to irrigate about 30,000 farms in the dry eastern Washington region, and generate hydroelectric power––about 1% of total Washington state electricity demand.
The four dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Beutler’s district includes almost all of the Washington side of the Columbia River: most of the region deriving benefits from the dams.
Trump appointee issued permit to kill sea lions
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration West Coast regional administrator Barry Thom, a September 2016 Trump administration appointee, on August 14, 2020 issued permits to kill the 716 doomed sea lions to the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho state agencies governing fisheries.
Additional permittees include the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
The three tribes collectively represent about 1.1% of the human population of Beutler’s district, but tribe members are allowed by law to catch up to half of the salmon who pass their traditional fishing locations on their way upstream to spawn. Tribal participation provides some political cover to the Republicans pushing the sea lion killing scheme.
In keeping with Trump administration practice of withholding potentially controversial announcements until hours when news reportage will be least, word that the permits had been issued was not released until late on a Friday.
Killing one protected species to save another
The sea lion killing “marks the biggest expansion yet of a strategy to save one protected species from extinction by killing another,” observed Oregon Public Radio reporter Monica Samayoa.
“For the first time, Steller sea lions,” listed as an endangered species from 1997 to 2013, join California sea lions as fair game for what the government is calling ‘lethal control,’” Samayoa explained.
“And individual sea lions no longer need to be documented as salmon predators before they can be killed; just being in a nearly 200-mile stretch of the Columbia River and its tributaries subjects a sea lion to being killed, under the [new] National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration policy.
“The targeted area runs up the Columbia River from the Interstate 205 bridge,” crossing from Vancouver, Washington, to Portland, Oregon, “to the McNary Dam,” spanning the Columbia River at Umatilla, Oregon, south of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, Washington, “as well as any tributaries,” Samayoa detailed. “The permit also includes any area with spawning habitats of threatened or endangered salmon.”
Ninefold increase in pace of sea lion killing
At least 238 California sea lions have been killed in the targeted area in the name of protecting endangered salmon runs since 2007, when the George W. Bush administration authorized killing sea lions in lieu of Snake River dam removal.
The new permits not only nearly triple the number of sea lions who may be killed, but also nearly triple the killing pace, amounting to an almost nine-fold increase in the sea lion killing rate.
The permittees applied in June 2019 to kill escalated numbers of sea lions at an accelerating pace.
The Washington legislature subsequently allocated $462,000 for the killing, contingent on the permit being approved. A total of $300,000 in federal funds was also budgeted for sea lion killing.
A federal task force appointed to review the permit request approved it by a vote of 16-2 in May 2020, after a three-day hearing.
Hearing followed temporary fishing closure
The hearing was held after participants had––unofficially––about five weeks to assess the bellyaching from fishers and the economic impact of a March 25, 2020 temporary closure of all recreational fisheries in the state of Washington, plus all recreational salmon and steelhead in the Oregon portion of the Columbia River, declared by the Washington and Oregon departments of fish and wildlife to limit exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife argued at the hearing that sea lions “can consume up to 44% of the Columbia River’s spring Chinook salmon run and 25% of the Willamette winter steelhead run each year,” Samayoa summarized.
Killing 33 sea lions at Willamette Falls in 2019, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife southeast regional director Kessina Lee contended, cut winter steelhead predation of 25% of the run in 2018, to 7% in 2019, and only 1 to 2% in 2020.
“That translates to about 1,377 steelhead saved out of a total run of 5,510, and a significantly lower risk of extinction,” wrote Seattle Times environment reporter Lynda V. Mapes.
Comments ran 110-to-one against killing sea lions
The sea lion killing “is sure to be controversial,” Mapes continued. “Nearly 22,000 comments received during public review of the program were opposed and fewer than 200 were for it.
“For years,” Mapes remembered, “fish managers have tried nonlethal methods to haze and eliminate sea lions in the Columbia: fire crackers and seal bombs, chasing them with boats, rubber bullets, screaming rockets, pingers, blasting orca whale calls, buckshot — and even long-haul relocation of salmon-munching sea lions didn’t work. They swam right back, as far as 100 miles in three days, to keep chowing down.”
Added Gene Johnson of Associated Press, “The Port of Astoria even tried a fake motorized orca made of fiberglass in a futile effort to keep sea lions off its docks.”
“It won’t be pretty”
Resumed Mapes, “Training and new equipment will be needed to handle Steller’s sea lions, who are more aggressive and bigger — up to 2,500 pounds — than California sea lions.
“Use of firearms is prohibited,” Mapes said. “Instead, a combination of trapping and darting would be used, with the kill administered by lethal injection of tranquilizing drugs. The intended goal is humane euthanasia.
“But it won’t be pretty: poles, gaffs, squeeze traps, cages and more will be needed to isolate, contain, restrain, kill and remove the animals from what is their natural habitat.
“The sea lions are after all only doing what comes naturally, as they follow succulent salmon to dams that create bottlenecks that make the fish easy pickings.”
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission senior fisheries scientist Doug Hatch told Monica Samayoa of Oregon Public Radio that he did not expect the full quota of sea lions to be killed.
Hatch also alleged, Samayoa reported, that “Killing sea lions up the Columbia River is not expected to affect the reproductive rate of future generations because only males are known to venture upriver for salmon and steelhead.”
Hatch overlooked, however, that male sea lions consuming salmon and steelhead up the Columbia River and tributaries are not directly competing for fish with female sea lions and pups around the rocky tidal islands that are their rookeries.
Global warming––a phenomenon that Trump and Beutler both decry as a hoax––has altered Pacific Ocean currents in recent years, causing female sea lions and pups to have to search farther for food, leading to increasingly frequent deaths from starvation.
“You can’t kill your way out of this problem”
“Sharon Young, senior strategist for marine wildlife at the Humane Society of the U.S.,” who was one of the two members of the federally appointed review panel to vote against killing sea lions to protect salmon, “called the sea lions the least of the salmon’s problems,” wrote Gene Johnson of Associated Press. “Fishing, competition from hatchery fish, and habitat loss, including dams and culverts that block their passage or raise water temperatures, are far more serious, she said.”
“Killing the sea lions isn’t going to address any of that,” said Young. “It is only going to distract from what they aren’t doing to address the real problems salmon are facing. You’re killing sea lions for nothing. You can’t kill your way out of this problem,” meaning the decline of 13 seasonal salmon runs on the Columbia and Snake rivers, most of them affected by the four lower Snake River dams.
U.S. President Donald Trump late on October 19, 2018––a Friday––endorsed Representative Beutler’s campaign to save the dams by issuing a presidential memorandum demanding the removal of what he called “unnecessary” regulatory burdens on the Snake River dam operators, and requiring that a judicially ordered National Environmental Policy Act study on management of the eight dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers be finished a year ahead of the original schedule.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation on February 28, 2020 released the first phase of the National Environmental Policy Act study.
“The review was supposed to detail all credible recovery alternatives for endangered salmon and steelhead,” objected Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Meg Townsend. “But instead it gives short shrift to the only viable alternative for saving salmon and ultimately orcas — removing the four lower Snake River dams.
“The science shows that pulling out the four lower Snake River dams is the only way to save Columbia river salmon and the Southern Resident orcas that depend on them,” Townsend said.
Meanwhile, hook-and-bullet voters, more formally known as gun-owning recreational fishers and hunters, tend to reliably vote Republican and not care much about where salmon come from, so long as they catch the limit.
Oregon Fish & Wildlife Department data indicates that fishers visited “the ocean, bays/estuaries, and freshwater west of the Coast Range, including the Lower Columbia River” as many 1.4 million times in 2013 and 1.5 million times in 2014.
“Fishing trip spending generated $66.7 million in 2013 and $68.9 million in 2014 in personal income for local coastal communities,” the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Department estimates.
Beutler has courted the hook-and-bullet vote throughout her political career, in opposition, however, to fiscally conservative Republicans aligned with hunter/conservationist environmental organizations.
Some Republicans favor Snake River dam removal
Taxpayers for Common Sense, Save Our Wild Salmon, the Institute for Fisheries Research, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, the Northwest Energy Coalition, and American Rivers, among other right-leaning conservation organizations, in 2007 published a comprehensive report entitled Revenue Stream that came out strongly in favor of lower Snake River dam removal.
“The bottom line is clear,” concluded David Jenkins, government affairs director for Republicans for Environmental Protection. “The financial cost of maintaining and operating these dams far outweighs their benefits. It will be cheaper for taxpayers and better for utility ratepayers to remove these dams and replace their current benefits than to continue funding the status quo.”
Marine mammals out-compete recreational fishers
Revenue Stream argued that that removal of the four lower Snake River dams and subsequent recovery of Snake River salmon populations would not only save salmon and sea lions, and help to save the salmon-dependent Puget Sound resident orca population, who at times forage near the mouth of the Columbia River, but would also enable “a nearly five-fold increase in commercial fishing, sport fishing and recreational opportunities in the Columbia Basin and five Pacific states – California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska” before 2030.
For hook-and-bullet voters, though, the bottom line is that since the Marine Mammal Protection Act began to protect then-endangered seals, sea lions, and orcas, the chinook catch by marine mammals along the West Coast has reportedly increased by 150%, 1975-2015, while the recreational fishing catch has fallen by 41%.
(See also Study: killing cormorants tripled losses of salmon & steelhead; Why killing predators won’t bring back the salmon; Feds hid data showing that killing cormorants will not help salmon & steelhead; California sea lions, starving in their rookeries, take heat for salmon losses; Feds illegally shot cormorants but can keep killing, judge rules; Wolves, grey whales, & sea lions targeted to preserve meat-getting traditions; Frustrated fishers push to kill West Coast sea lions & seals; and Exploiting starving orcas to push a boondoggle.)