Not Again! When Will We Learn?

Not Again! When Will We Learn?

On May 19th, a tragic  event unfolded along the Santa Barbara coastline that serves as a serious reminder to the world – oil spills and wildlife don’t mix.  Needless to say, oil spills’ impacts reach farther than just killing wildlife.  They close beaches, put livelihoods on hold, minimize ocean recreation, and they simply scar the land, ocean and its inhabitants, impacting people who come to enjoy these special areas.

Friends of the Sea Otter knows all too well the deadly consequences oil spills have upon sea otters due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred just slightly more than a quarter decade ago in 1989.  Sea otters die of hypothermia or ingesting the oil, which then gets into their internal organs and causes damage.  These similar impacts happen to other animals.

The deadly toll in this recent oil spill includes marine birds, marine mammals, other marine vertebrates, and marine invertebrates.  It is so disheartening to see the images flooding the news, social media, other media sites of oiled animals!

As of Thursday, June 4, 173 birds have been collected – 58 live, 115 dead – and 100 mammals – 42 live, 58 dead, and more than 14,000 gallons of oily water mixture has been collected.

There have been many things that have come up as to why this happened and why the initial response was inadequate.  These are all important things to address.  What is more important is the constant goal of preventing it from happening in the first place.  One area of emphasis is the need to move away from oil exploration and development in sensitive habitats like this.  Problems are always going to happen with these methods of extracting oil.  We need to focus on alternative energy and put our foot down in saying enough is enough.  We should have learned from the Gulf Oil Spill from five years ago.  We had ample time to learn from that tragic event, and we haven’t. And, until we really say “No More!”, we will continue to get news reports about these tragic, yet preventable events. Let’s learn this time and not repeat historic mistakes like these.

FSO’s 2015 Hero Series: Don Baur

FSO’s 2015 Hero Series: Don Baur

FSO’s 2015 Hero Series

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Individuals Dedicated to the Cause

Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) is the only organization in the world dedicated to the protection of sea otters on a global scale.  We do this through effective advocacy, litigation, public education, and the development of strong alliances and partnerships.  We are committed to protecting this threatened species wherever sea otters are found worldwide.  Why?  Because the health of the nearshore coastal ecosystem is dependent upon their survival.  The sea otter is a keystone species, meaning what happens to the sea otter, happens to the ecosystem. It is our duty to protect this marine mammal.  But who exactly is behind the scenes fighting for this keystone species?  Meet Friends of the Sea Otter’s feature Hero of 2015: Don Baur.

 Don Baur FSOs 2015 Hero Series: Don Baur

Ranked as one of  “America’s Leading Environmental Lawyers” and a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie, LLP, Don Baur is an integral part of Friends of the Sea Otter’s success.  Close friends with FSO founder, Margaret Owings, Mr. Baur has been advocating for sea otters for over 30 years.  One of his most recent and celebrated successes representing FSO is the removal of the 20+ year No Otter Zone that prohibited the free movement of sea otters throughout their natural habitat in Southern California.  Don helped spearhead the removal of this impediment to sea otter recovery, a critical decision that will help the threatened species expand its range over time.

It’s no coincidence that Don headlines the FSO Hero Series.  Without his guidance, passionate approach, and legal expertise, FSO would not have garnered the triumphant successes that it has had over the past three decades.  Don’s input and dedication to protecting the natural environment are instrumental in the success of the organization.  His expertise includes extensive experience in all relevant federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and coastal/ocean and public land laws.  Previously an attorney for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and General Counsel of the Marine Mammal Commission, Don’s efforts on ocean conservation include his service on the Board of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, his position as a professor of Ocean Law at the Vermont Law School for the last two decades, and as the lead editor and author of legal treatises on both endangered species and ocean law.

Thanks in part to the expertise, leadership, and experience of Don Baur, ocean enthusiasts and sea otter lovers alike can be confident that no rock will be left unturned to ensure protection for these threatened animals.  Don Baur states,  “The fact that the sea otter species has been able to fight off extinction is due, in no small measure, to the extraordinarily effective conservation program mounted by FSO.  This species still remains at great risk, however, and FSO and its supporters have major challenges ahead.  The recovery of this species will depend on sustained advocacy for the foreseeable future.”  Where there are legal challenges regarding the protection of sea otters, you can be sure that FSO will be there to confront them.

H.R. 4043 moves to House floor for vote

 H.R. 4043 moves to House floor for vote

H.R. 4043 strips federal protections for sea otters in Southern California.

An edited version of a bill that would have detrimental effects on sea otters has passed the Natural Resources Committee and is now headed to the House floor for a vote as an amendment to H.R. 4310, the Defense Authorization Act.

The bill, called H.R. 4043 and originally introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R – Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties), is worded differently than the original version that was introduced back in February. Friends of the Sea Otter and our partners, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Defenders of Wildlife, succeeded in altering language that would have changed the monitoring program already in place for sea otters at San Nicolas Island.

However, commercial fishing special interests have insisted on replacing text which would have required the federal government to maintain commercial shellfish harvest levels at current levels despite an expanding sea otter range. The new and unprecedented language instead supersedes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and strips protections for sea otters that live south of Point Conception.

The new language would essentially authorize fishermen to continue irresponsible fishing practices that have been proven to ensnare, trap, and kill sea otters. Normally the protections afforded the threatened southern sea otter under the ESA and MMPA would prohibit “incidental take” that might occur when a sea otter is trapped in large-scale fishing gear, in order to protect the species.

H.R. 4043’s new language, for the first time in history, exempts sea otters in Southern California from these protections under the country’s most landmark wildlife protection laws. This is not only disastrous for sea otters, but the bill also sets a horrible precedent for all species protected under the ESA and MMPA that might prove to be an “inconvenience” to a well-connected special interest group.

The bill will be voted on as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization when it reaches the floor of the House of Representatives.

(5/18/2012) UPDATE: House passed HR 4310, including the Gallegly amendment stripping Southern California’s sea otters of incidental take protections under Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Click to read FSO’s Press Release. FSO will continue to monitor and oppose the Gallegly amendment in the Senate.

Anti-Otter Legislation Dies in Alaskan Senate!

HJR 26, a non-binding state resolution calling the federal government to implement population control of southeast Alaskan sea otters, died in the committee in the Alaskan state Senate. The bill was essentially in support of HR 2714, a federal bill that promotes increased hunting of Alaskan sea otters, which remains alive in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Management of sea otter populations can only be done at the federal level.

nativeaktake chart Anti Otter Legislation Dies in Alaskan Senate!

Hunting rates for sea otters in southeast Alaska in 2010 and 2011 have almost doubled from the average over the past decade. 2011 numbers are estimates from FWS. Year totals are averaged over 3 years.

The resolution claimed that the 12% sea otter population growth rate reported for Southeast Alaska in 2011 is out of control and negatively impacting commercial fisheries for geoducks, red sea urchins, and sea cucumbers, among others. In fact, population growth in Southeast Alaska is historically low – prior to the 1990s, population growth rates up to 23% were normal in Southeast Alaska.

There is no doubt that fisheries will need to adjust as sea otters recover and return to their historic range, but sea otters are a net benefit for the entire ecosystem. Since the extinction of the sea otter in Southeast Alaska (a direct result of the fur trade in the 1800s) populations of shellfish have exploded without any major predator, causing havoc on the coastal environment. Sea urchins in particular have devastated coastal kelp forest ecosystems due to their insatiable appetite for the roots that connect kelp to the ocean floor. As a result, large swaths of kelp forests (the “rain forests of the sea” because of their role in supporting traditional habitat and nurseries for a wide diversity of sea life) have been mowed down and replaced with comparatively lifeless ocean expanses termed “urchin barrens.”

urchinkelpcomparison Anti Otter Legislation Dies in Alaskan Senate!

Kelp forests (right) support a tremendous diversity of life. Sea otters play a vital role in maintaining kelp ecosystems by culling sea urchin numbers, which left unchecked would consume kelp to the point of deforesting entire regions, transforming them into urchin barrens (left).

As sea otters return, so will the fish that rely on kelp for some part of their life cycle. Pacific Herring, which use kelp as nurseries for commercially viable roe, are part of a multi-million dollar fishery in Southeast Alaska that is likely to benefit from a return of sea otters and kelp forests. Other species of rockfish will also benefit from a flourishing kelp habitat again. Kelp can also slow coastal erosion and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The resolution passed the state House of Representatives on March 19th and was expected to sail through the Senate. Thanks in large part to staunch resistance by the Alaskan Wildlife Alliance the resolution was indefinitely stalled in committee for this legislative session.

Though the Alaskan state resolution has at least been stalled until the next legislative season, the binding and much more dangerous HR 2714 remains in the U.S. House of Representatives. HJR 26 could easily be resurrected in the next session as well.

take action2 Anti Otter Legislation Dies in Alaskan Senate!

HJR 26 was a non-binding state  resolution that recommends the federal government to essentially adopt H.R. 2714 – a bill that would open up the world market for commercially produced sea otter fur.

H.R. 2714 remains alive in the U.S. Congress.

You can TAKE ACTION now to tell your representative that sea otters are more important than fur and to oppose H.R. 2714. Learn more about Alaskan sea otters.

Dispatches from the Capitol

 Dispatches from the CapitolOn Monday March 26th, Friends of the Sea Otter sent me to advocate on behalf of the voiceless sea otters at the annual Ocean Day event held at the California State Capitol in Sacramento and hosted by Environment California. The day for FSO would be spent educating and informing state lawmakers about sea otters (in particular, the no-otter zone), the ocean environment, and how California can continue to lead the way in protecting our coastal resources.

Early in the morning, dozens of passionate ocean advocates gathered in conference room 444 for a kick-off speech by ocean champion Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D – Santa Monica). Her stories of fighting for state-wide bans on plastic bags and styrofoam take-out food containers, both of which are extremely harmful to the ocean environment and cost millions a year to clean up, energized and motivated us for a full day of ocean advocacy – especially since coffee was not allowed in that room (the room is almost 150 years old, after all!).

Though as important as they are, sea otters were just one topic my particular group (all attendees were broken into several themed groups) discussed with California state legislators and their staff. Working with Oceana, the Surfrider Foundation, and Save Our Shores, I had a

 Dispatches from the Capitol

Assemblymember Julia Brownley kicks off Ocean Day

chance to partake in a discussion covering a wide variety of ocean issues, from plastic pollution to marine protected areas (did you know that by the end of this year, all of California’s coast will be protected by a network of new underwater parks?!) and California’s potential first official state marine reptile (the leatherback sea turtle). Tackling all of these issues is important to create a healthy ocean habitat, for sea otters and other wildlife as well as to preserve the economic value of the ocean itself.

When we weren’t lost in the web of hallways and elevators that is the capitol building, we spent our time talking up the issues with legislators who were very receptive to hearing our messages. One thing I have noticed by working on ending the no-otter zone these past years is that just by educating and informing people that this exclusion zone exists almost always guarantees their support, and I was pleased to find this rule held true with lawmakers and their staff in the state capitol. The no-otter zone shocked nearly every office I spoke with and many offered their support to end the no-otter zone and free the sea otter.

By the end of the day we had met with six legislator offices, two legislators themselves, dozens of other ocean advocates, and tasted seafood ice cream provided by Ben and Jerry’s (not for everyone!). Other groups, including the otter-advocates at The Otter Project and our friends at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, worked hard that day too for a combined total of 96 California state legislator offices being informed of ocean issues and our cause. With only 120 total state legislators, we spoke to nearly 80% of the total elected body in Sacramento!

Moving forward from this long day of activism, FSO welcomes more cooperation from important state legislators and our other ocean advocacy friends as we work to protect our coastal habitat for people and wildlife. To learn more about the no-otter zone, please click here and be sure to visit our friends at Oceana, the Surfrider Foundation, and Save Our Shores to learn about the important issues they work on as well.

New Bill Takes Aim at Sea Otters!

takeaction New Bill Takes Aim at Sea Otters!

On February 15th, Representative Gallegly (R – Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties) introduced H.R. 4043, a bill that represents a full step backwards in sea otter conservation. Though deceptively titled as legislation that promotes the recovery of the threatened southern sea otter, the “Military Readiness and Southern Sea Otter Conservation Act“ would in fact undermine the current process of ending the antiquated no-otter zone that was established in 1987. The no-otter zone prohibited sea otters from entering coastal waters south of Point Conception (near Santa Barbara), but has failed in its purpose and is currently undergoing the process to be terminated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by this December.

H.R. 4043 requires that termination of the no-otter zone be stalled again while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service complete an “Ecosystem Management Plan.” Under H.R. 4043, an Ecosystem Management Plan would have to “[ensure] the commercial harvest of shellfish fisheries at levels approximating current harvests.” Shellfish harvests in southern California have declined because of over-harvesting by the same groups that would benefit from this bill by requiring a plan that would maintain their current harvest levels. This requirement is essentially a handout to the commercial shellfish industry and a license to continue practicing their irresponsible harvests.

The Ecosystem Management Plan would also have to ensure the recovery of the endangered white and black abalone, though scientists have concluded over and over again that the decline of these species was not due to sea otters. Indeed, the two species can and do co-exist. Because it conveniently supports their goal of opposing sea otter range expansion, the shellfish industry continues to promulgate the unproven belief that otters are the sole cause of the white and black abalone’s decline.

Sea otters, once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were nearly eliminated from California in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only in the past few decades has the species begun to recover, though the recovery has not been without its struggles. The latest survey found the population had declined by 3.6% to 2,711 animals. There is general consensus that, in order for the species to confront the varied obstacles it faces (from pollution and disease to food limitation), it must be allowed to naturally expand its range.

Sea otters should be allowed to swim freely, unobstructed by special interests. H.R. 4043 is no more than a veiled tactic aimed at obstructing the termination of the no-otter zone and securing a restriction on the sea otter’s natural range while giving a handout to the shellfish fisheries. Halting natural range expansion would defeat the well-studied environmental benefits, economic gains and jobs associated with tourism, sea otters, and a balanced and healthy ecosystem. H.R. 4043 is bad for otters, bad for jobs, and bad for the environment. It’s time to stand up to the obstructionists and end the no-otter zone.

Write your representative to oppose H.R. 4043.