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Humane Society Files Notice To Appeal To Ninth Circuit On Sea Lion Removal
December 12, 2008 Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Bulletin
The Humane Society of the United States on Dec. 5 filed notice that they will appeal a Nov. 26 district court judgment that gave the green light for the removal of California sea lions that prey on salmon below the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam.

The organization's attorneys are now in discussions with other parties to the lawsuit regarding a briefing schedule that would be submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, according to the HSUS's Sharon Young.

"It's not in anybody's interest for it to drag on," Young said of the ongoing legal battle over whether the states of Oregon and Washington should be allowed to relocate or kill sea lions that feast each year on returning salmon spawners that are searching for the dam's fish ladders. Some of the stocks eaten during the pinnipeds' annual spring visit are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

When litigation was launched last spring participants expressed a desire for expedited legal processes at the district and appellate court levels so that a resolution could be reached before 2009's arrival of spring chinook salmon, and sea lions. An agreement reached by the litigants, and endorsed in district court, prevents the removal of any of the marine mammals until March 1.

The states' application for permission to remove pinnipeds was granted in March by the NOAA Fisheries Service after consideration through a process outlined in Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

HSUS, Wild Fish Conservancy and two individuals challenged the decision in U.S. District Court. They asked the court to set aside the decision granting five-year authorization for California sea lion removal.

The NOAA decision authorized the taking of up to 85 California each year, but says it is unlikely that more than 30 could be removed annually.

HSUS alleged that the federal agency violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

In a Nov. 26 opinion and order Judge Michael W. Mosman said NOAA complied with the law.

"Viewing NMFS's actions in light of the APA's deferential standard, NMFS properly evaluated whether individually identifiable pinnipeds were having a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery of salmonids," Mosman said.

During two weeks of trapping last May Washington and Oregon wildlife managers captured seven California sea lions for relocation to zoological facilities. Six sea lions were flown to SeaWorld facilities in Orlando, Fla., and San Antonio, Tex. One of the animals died when it failed to resume breathing after being sedated for a health examination.

The trapping was ended in May after six pinnipeds -- four California and two Steller sea lions -- were found dead in the traps. The trap doors had been left open but somehow closed overnight, trapping the sea lions inside. It was determined that the animals died of heat prostration. NOAA launched an investigation to determine how the doors became closed but has yet to announce any findings.

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