SEA OTTER ENVIRONMENTAL COALITION URGES PROMPT ACTION TO ELIMINATE NO-SEA Otter ZONE IN CALIFORNIA

 

picture 201 SEA OTTER ENVIRONMENTAL COALITION URGES PROMPT ACTION TO ELIMINATE NO SEA Otter ZONE IN CALIFORNIA

Monterey, Calif. (SEPTEMBER 22, 2010)– A coalition of five environmental organizations today cited the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to resume its process for reaching a long-delayed final determination on whether to terminate zonal management of the southern sea otter, as the groups called for the agency to move forward expeditiously with this process.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision was announced to the coalition in a September 9 letter from Ren Lohoefener, Regional Director of the Service.

The announcement comes just as one of the coalition members, Defenders of Wildlife, kicks off its Sea Otter Awareness Week, which begins on September 26 and runs through October 2 this year. To find events in your area or to learn how you can make a positive difference for sea otters, visit www.saveseaotters.org.

Another coalition member, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, will host its annual “Otter Days” weekend on September 25 and 26. Visitors to the aquarium can meet sea otter researchers, participate in family programs and events, win special prizes, and learn how to help save sea otters. For more information, see www.montereybayaquarium.org/vi/vi_events/vi_events_otter_days.aspx.

Currently, a no-otter zone exists south of Point Conception. The zone was established in 1988 as part of a plan to translocate sea otters to San Nicolas Island to help achieve species recovery under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Fish and Wildlife Service subsequently determined that natural expansion of the sea otter range south of Point Conception is necessary to achieve recovery of the species, but it never completed its decision whether to eliminate the no-otter zone.

In September 2009, five environmental groups [Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Sea Otter, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Ocean Public Trust Initiative Project of the International Marine Mammal Project of the Earth Island Institute, and The Humane Society of the United States] again reached out to the Service and urged it to take action. In meetings with the Service, and in subsequent letters, the groups strongly endorsed an end to zonal management and recommended that the San Nicolas Island population be left in place. The process to consider those issues will now resume, according to Lohoefener.  Lohoefener announced that another supplemental draft environmental impact statement would be released.  He explained that the groups have “many decades of experience with respect to sea otter conservation, and the Service highly values their views on this topic.”

In response, Zack Bradford, Policy Analyst for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said: “We are pleased that the Service has jump-started the decision-making process that was abandoned by the previous Administration. If sea otters thrive again, the entire marine ecosystem will benefit. Our coalition will continue to press for a prompt final decision.”

An update on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s procedure for coming to a final decision on the no-otter zone will be provided during Sea Otter Awareness Week programs.

Contact: Jason Lutterman, Friends of the Sea Otter, (831) 915-3275; Zack Bradford, Monterey Bay Aquarium, (831) 644-4800; Jim Curland, Defenders of Wildlife, (831) 726-9010.

FSO Continues to Fight for the Otter’s Right to Expand

In recent decades, Friends of the Sea Otter has been adamant about protecting the population of sea otters at San Nicholas Island and providing them with the freedom to move and expand in the waters of Southern California. Currently a Fishery Management Zone surrounds San Nicholas Island, where a robust population of sea otters is only just now becoming established after the Fish and Wild Service transported them there from their mother range on the central coast more than 20 years ago. The Management Zone is effectively a no-otter zone where otters from San Nicholas Island and the mother range are captured and removed if they happen to accidentally swim through it. The no-otter zone covers most of the Southern Californian coast, from Point Conception to the Mexican border, with the exception of the kelp forests around San Nicholas Island. The problem this no-otter zone creates for the expansion of sea otters has been the focus of a dialogue between the Friends of the Sea Otter and its partners, the US Fish and Wild Service, and the Navy.

On Tuesday, July 13th, representatives from Friends of the Sea Otter, on its members’ behalf, and its partners were welcomed to a tour of the naval facilities of San Clemente and San Nicholas Islands off the coast of Los Angeles, California. The goal of the tour was to 1.) survey the impact of naval operations on the coastal habitats of the islands, and 2.) continue the conversation about the Translocation Plan and the no-otter zone. San Clemente Island, though not supporting a sea otter population presently, has potential sea otter habitat should the otters at San Nicholas Island be allowed into the no-otter zone.

post FSO Continues to Fight for the Otter’s Right to ExpandThough the islands play an important strategic role in the Navy’s goal of national security, both are rich in wildlife and natural resources, which the Navy takes seriously. Extensive natural resource programs on both islands focus on protecting the environment from Navy operations while working to restore habitats and species that were damaged in the past. The natural resource conservation program on San Nicholas Island in particular is sensitive to marine mammals of all kinds and has changed whole policies to accommodate different species. In one case, a large dock and crane were even assembled to unload supplies from ships and thus bypass a beach that is important to elephant seals and sea lions. Similarly, a program to monitor the sea otters that inhabit the island’s extensive kelp forests keeps track of any reactions the otters may have to Navy operations and exercises. Because of these conservation programs, Navy operations seem to pose no threat to the current sea otter population or to the prospective population growth around the island.

The question remains, though, on how to proceed with ending the no-otter zone surrounding San Nicholas Island and allow the sea otters there and in the mother range the opportunity to expand. Friends of the Sea Otter will continue to work for its members to end this no-otter zone and finally allow sea otters the right to swim where they please and expand their dangerously narrow range. Only when sea otters are allowed this freedom will the species truly have the opportunity it deserves to expand and thrive.

The Scope and Danger of Californian Offshore Oil Drills

oil The Scope and Danger of Californian Offshore Oil Drills

In light of the pending success of capping the 3 month-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is a good idea to look at California’s offshore oil production. Though not necessarily known for its petroleum resources, California has sizeable offshore oil production. Thirty-two offshore oil extraction sites dot the Californian coast, most of which can be seen from the shore, and produce over 100,000 barrels of oil a day. In 2008, offshore oil wells produced 16% of the oil demanded by California.(1)

The rules regarding offshore oil production are slightly complicated. Because California only technically owns waters up to 3 nautical miles from the shore while the federal government owns the rest, both Sacramento and Washington, DC have the ability to sell leases to oil wells.

The state government has had a moratorium on new offshore leases since the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. A similar explosion of natural gas like the one that happened on the Deepwater Horizon drill spilled 200,000 gallons a day for more than a week. Over 750 square miles of Californian coastal water was affected by the spill, and 35 miles of coastline and beach from Rincorn Point to Goleta saw thick tar-like oil coat its shores.

Though there were reports of oil as far north as Santa Rosa, the oil slick of the Santa Barbara oil spill would not have been in the current range of the Southern Sea Otter. An accident the size of the Deepwater Horizon spill would, however, have a devastating impact on the Southern Sea Otters of the Californian coast. An interesting website called http://www.ifitwasmyhome.com/ can bring home the sheer monstrosity that is the Gulf oil spill by imposing the damaged area over any location. This simple visual shows that a spill that size could have the potential to cover the entire range of the Southern Sea Otter, which could wipe the species out.

Though oil is damaging to all sea life, Sea Otters are especially susceptible to the effects of an oil accident as they rely exclusively on their specialized fur for warmth instead of blubber. When in contact with oil, Sea Otter fur loses much of its ability to trap heat and thus exposes the animal to the cold seawater.

Up until 1984 the federal government had continued to lease rights to wells under its jurisdiction. A moratorium on drilling in federal waters since then has been renewed every year until 2008 when Congress did not continue it. An effective lawsuit filed by California had kept any new leases from being issued until the Obama administration came to power. The Obama administration has ruled out any policy of offshore drilling in California, but this policy is susceptible to changes and repeal by future administrations.

In order to make the Obama policy more permanent and thus harder for future administrations to change, a cadre of Californian congressmen has introduced H.R. 5213: The West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010.(2) The bill would effectively ban offshore drilling on California’s outer continental shelf, which is where the federal government owns its wells.

Though domestic oil production might play a role in securing America’s oil independence in the future, the danger it poses to a fragile ecosystem like the California coast is simply to high.

(1) California Department of Conservation: Monthly oil and gas production and injection report, November 2008, PDF file, downloaded 31 July 2010.
(2) Keep track of the West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010 on govtrack.us here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-5213.

Sea Otter Bill Passes House!

Friends of the Sea Otter applauds the passage of Sea Otter Research and Recovery Bill by House!

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House Acts to Protect Marine Turtles, Sea Otters By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 8:24 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — The southern sea otter and the marine turtle would get federal assistance in their struggles to survive under bills the House passed Tuesday.

The House voted 316-107 to approve $5 million a year over the next five years for research and recovery programs run by the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey for the southern sea otters along the coast of California.

In 1977, the southern sea otter was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Currently there are about 2,800 of the marine mammals along the California coast.

Under the bill, experts would study and seek to mitigate causes of high sea otter mortality, which are thought to include malnutrition, shark attacks, entanglement in fishing gear, boat strikes, shooting and proliferation of harmful algae.

”If the sea otters are dying, then something else is happening that is very keen to the coastal near-shore environment that affects the well-being of mankind,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., sponsor of the legislation.

The marine turtle bill extends for five years a program that also provides $5 million a year to save the reptiles, which have also been endangered by the destruction of nesting habitats, poaching, entanglement in marine debris, ship strikes and pollution.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., passed 354-72. Both bills now go to the Senate.

To Track and the Bill and its progresss, visit: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-556