Tag Archives: Congress

Northwest States, Tribes Apply To Feds For OK To Kill More Columbia Sea Lions

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), along with a consortium of state and tribal partners, today submitted an expanded application to lethally remove California and Steller sea lions preying on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

California sea lions — and increasingly, Steller sea lions — have been observed in growing numbers in the Columbia River basin, especially in the last decade. These sea lions prey heavily on salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including thousands of fish at Bonneville Dam each year.

The impacts come at a time when many Chinook salmon runs are already at historic lows.

The recovery of sea lions since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972 is a success story, said Kessina Lee, Region 5 director with WDFW. But that recovery has also brought challenges.

“The vast majority of these animals remain in coastal and offshore waters, but several hundred have established themselves in upriver locations,” Lee said. “Where salmon and steelhead numbers are low, any unmanaged increase in predation can cause serious problems.”

Predator management is a key part of a multi-faceted effort to restore salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest.

“For decades, we’ve made strides in habitat restoration, hydropower policy, hatchery production, and fishery management, and we continue to work with our partners to further those initiatives,” Lee said. “Predator management remains an essential part of the equation.”

The application submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) by WDFW and its partners is the first since Congress passed an amendment to the MMPA in December 2018. That amendment, spearheaded by the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation, passed with strong bipartisan support and offers greater flexibility to wildlife managers when determining if a sea lion should be lethally removed in waters that host ESA-listed runs of salmon or steelhead.

“Based on years of experience working within the bounds of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Columbia River fishing tribes contend that predator management is necessary to restore balance to the Columbia River system,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Strong partnerships and collaboration with the states, northwest congressional delegation, federal authorities, and nongovernment organizations resulted in this amendment, which applies robust tools to manage sea lions in the lower Columbia River and recognizes tribal sovereignty in that management.”

WDFW and its partners have taken steps to deter California sea lions in the Columbia River basin for more than a decade, but non-lethal measures have proven largely ineffective, driving animals away for only short periods. These hazing measures appear similarly ineffective against Steller sea lions. Non-lethal measures continue to be used as a short-term deterrent when appropriate.

Wildlife managers have conducted lethal removal operations of California sea lions in the Columbia River basin since 2008, when NMFS first issued a letter of authorization under section 120 of the MMPA. From 2008-2019, wildlife managers removed a total of 219 California sea lions that met the federal criteria for removal below Bonneville Dam.

Steller sea lions have not previously been subject to lethal removal.

“Prior to this legislation, wildlife managers were severely limited in their ability to effectively manage sea lions in these areas,” Lee said. “Additional action is required to protect these troubled fish stocks before they are completely eliminated. This is an unfortunate, but necessary step in the salmon recovery process.”

If approved, WDFW expects to begin humanely removing animals under the terms of the expanded application beginning in 2020. The application is subject to a public comment period and review by NMFS. Members of the public can review the application at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/MMPA-120f-application.pdf.

Other entities submitting the application with WDFW include the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon (CTWSR), The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the 3.6.D Committee, which includes ODFW, CTUIR, CTWSR, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians of Oregon.

Bipartisan Bill Reviving, Permanently Reauthorizing LWCF, Addressing Methow, Umpqua Watersheds Heralded By BHA

THE FOLLOWING IS A BACKCOUNTRY HUNTERS AND ANGLERS PRESS RELEASE

In defiance of the government shutdown that continues to impact federal workers and public lands, a broad-based package of public lands bills, including a measure that would revive the Land and Water Conservation Fund, has been introduced in the Senate.

A CRAWDAD SITS JUST UNDER THE SURFACE OF A TRIBUTARY OF THE UMPQUA RIVER’S STEAMBOAT CREEK. THE WATERSHED IS PROPOSED TO BE KNOWN AS THE FRANK AND JEANNE MOORE SPECIAL STEELHEAD MANAGEMENT AREA UNDER A BILL REINTRODUCED IN CONGRESS. (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

The introduction of S. 47 culminates weeks-long negotiations among Senate leaders that began during the 115th Congress and takes advantage of a mechanism, Rule 14, that fast-tracks it to the Senate floor. Although the package faces opposition by some senators who are refusing to consider legislation that fails to resolve the federal shutdown, its introduction under Rule 14 enables its speedy advancement to a vote.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers commended the introduction of S. 47 by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski and urged the Senate to unite in support of it.

“We the American people have stepped up to support a public lands package – one that includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the most effective conservation and access program in the nation – again and again,” said Land Tawney, BHA president and CEO. “Chairwoman Murkowski deserves our thanks for introducing the bill early in the 116th Congress and for standing up, alongside Sen. Maria Cantwell and other champions, for our public lands and waters.”

Priority components of S. 47 for sportsmen and women include the following:

  • Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area;
  • Methow Valley permanent mineral withdrawal;
  • California Desert Protection and Recreation Act;
  • Cerro del Yuta and Rio San Antonio wilderness areas;
  • The WILD Act with reauthorization of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program at current funding levels until FY2022;
  • Reauthorization of Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act at $6.5 million until FY2022;
  • Permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund with 3 percent dedicated to securing access to public lands for hunting and fishing.

“While BHA stands with the federal resource workers and others impacted by the government shutdown, we urge Senate members to reach agreement on a path to advance this well-meaning package as soon as possible,” Tawney said. “S. 47 addresses numerous priority issues for sportsmen and women, including permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, that are bipartisan and expand public access opportunities across our nation. We can’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers again.”

Congress Moving Different Directions On Sea Lions, Wolves

Attempts in Congress to give state managers more latitude to deal with two of the most polarizing predators in the Northwest these days are going in opposite directions.

Yesterday saw the US Senate pass a bill that would expand where sea lions could be removed on the Columbia River system, and while the House of Representatives must still concur, a bill delisting gray wolves passed last month by the lower chamber will not go anywhere in the upper house in December, it now appears.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. THE ENDANGERED SALMON AND FISHERIES PREDATION ACT PASSED BY THE SENATE AND WHICH GOES NOW TO THE HOUSE WOULD GIVE STATE MANAGERS MORE LATITUDE TO LETHALLY REMOVE THE SPECIES IN TRIBUTARIES OF THE COLUMBIA. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

The Manage Our Wolves Act, cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republican representatives will likely die in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works as federal lawmakers’ workload piles up at the end of the two-year session.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated federal budgetary issues would take precedence, according to a report from the DC Bureau of the McClatchy news service.

And even if the Republican-controlled Senate were to still pass the bill in 2019, with November’s election changing the balance of power in the House, a spokeswoman for the new chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), told wire reporter Kellen Browning flatly that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years.

It’s probably best to let the biologists determine when a species is recovered rather than run things through Congress like this, but that also takes time and meanwhile frustrations mount over very real concerns and unintended consequences of 1970s’ environmental protections, and the drag-it-out-in-the-courts approach the laws have inspired in some in the environmental community.

In the case of the wolves of the river, Marine Mammal Protection Act-listed sea lions are taking unacceptably large bites out of Endangered Species Act-listed Columbia salmon and steelhead, putting their recovery — not to mention the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it — in the watershed at increasing risk.

With pushing from fishermen, state wildlife agencies, tribal managers, even conservation organizations, a bipartisan coalition of Northwest senators and representatives has now been able get sea lion bills passed in both houses of Congress this year.

But even as we live in an era when the back door to delistings and amended protections is being opened wider and wider, it appears that for the time being we’ll need to go through the front one, the traditional way, to clear the wolves of the woods off the ESA list.

Once again.

Back in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced that it had begun to review the status of the species in the Lower 48 for, what, the third? fourth? time since the early 2000s due to court actions.

That could lead to the delisting of gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in their range, handing over management from USFWS to WDFW, ODFW and other agencies.

A PAIR OF WOLVES CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAMERA NEAR MT. HOOD. (ODFW)

This morning I asked the feds for an update on how that was proceeding and they sent me a statement that was very similar to one they emailed out around the summer solstice.

Here’s what today’s said:

“The USFWS is currently reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. On completion of the review, the Service will, if appropriate, publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

With six long months ahead of it, June’s version had this as the third sentence: “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

Now it’s more open-ended.

And comparing a second paragraph USFWS sent along as background, the update has removed the words “under the previous administration,” a reference to the 2013 proposal by the Obama Administration’s USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

The rest of that para touches on the “sound science” that went into that determination and the court action that subsequently derailed it.

It sounds like the science is strong with the sea lion removal authorization, so let’s hope that once the House agrees and president signs it, it isn’t challenged in court, and if it is, that it clears the hurdles that are thrown up — and which lead to bypassing the judicial system all together.

U.S. House Votes To Delist Lower 48 Gray Wolves

The US House of Representatives earlier today voted to delist gray wolves in the rest of the Lower 48 by a 196 to 180 margin.

EARLIER THIS YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING QUARTERS OF ONE BACK TO THE DEN. (JEFF FLOOD)

HR 6784, known as the Manage our Wolves Act and co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, now heads to the US Senate.

“The recovery of the gray wolf is a success story for the Endangered Species Act, and the best available science must determine whether species remain listed,” said Congressman Dan Newhouse of the Yakima Valley in a press release. “States are best-equipped to effectively manage gray wolves and respond to the needs of ecosystem and local communities. I am pleased that this bipartisan legislation to return management of the gray wolf species to the states, as requested by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and as proposed by the Obama administration, has been approved by the House.”

Cosponsor and Spokane-area Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers touched on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal in her remarks on the floor of the House this morning.

“In the fall of 2013, the Obama Administration announced that the gray wolf is recovered. President Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe stated, ‘[the gray wolf] is no longer endangered or threatened with extinction…as we propose to remove ESA protections, states like Washington and Oregon are managing expanding populations under protective state laws.’ Unfortunately, the gray wolf was not delisted,” she said in a press release.

Up until this past spring, little apparent work was being done by USFWS on the delisting, but the process begin again with a push to get a determination out by the end of 2018.

Today’s vote probably also recognizes the coming changing politics in Congress’s lower chamber as Democrats take over in January and the odds of a bill like this passing decrease, though a sea lion management bill did get bipartisan support in clearing the House.

Conservation Northwest called the wolf bill “too broad and “unprecedented,” but in 2011 Congress also voted to delist wolves in Idaho, Montana, and the eastern two-thirds of Washington and Oregon through a budget rider.

If this bill were to pass Congress and be signed into law, it would provide WDFW with more flexibility for managing wolves in Central and Western Washington, but the species would remain listed under the state’s version of the Endangered Species Act.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post misreported progress of a sea lion bill through the House.