A bill that would make it easier to kill sea lions that feast on imperiled salmon in the Columbia River has cleared the US Senate. State wildlife managers say rebounding numbers of sea lions are eating more salmon than ever and their appetites are undermining billions of dollars of investments to restore endangered fish runs, per the AP. Senate Bill 3119, which passed Thursday by unanimous consent, would streamline the process for Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and several Pacific Northwest Native American tribes to capture and euthanize potentially hundreds of sea lions found in the river east of Portland, Ore. Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican who co-sponsored the bill with senators from all three states, said the legislation would help ensure healthy populations of salmon for years to come.
Supporters of the bill—including Oregon, Washington, and Idaho's governors; fishing groups; and tribes—say it will give wildlife managers greater flexibility in controlling California sea lions that dramatically increased from about 30,000 in the '60s to 300,000 or so under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Critics called it ill-conceived and say it won't solve the problem of declining salmon, which also face other problems such as habitat loss and dams. Washington, Idaho, and Oregon wildlife managers now have the federal OK to kill problem sea lions that eat salmon in the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam, east of Portland, but they must first go through a lengthy process to ID and document specific sea lions that cause problems, including observing them eating a salmon and using non-lethal hazing measures on them. Both the House and Senate bills would remove those mandates. (Read more sea lions stories.)