FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE ISSUES POLICY ON SOUTHERN SEA OTTER REMOVAL
VENTURA, Calif. -- In a policy statement released today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will not remove southern sea otters from a designated "management zone" in ocean areas off the southern California coast until the agency completes a reevaluation of its southern sea otter translocation program.
"The Service will not resume the capture and removal of sea otters while it is reevaluating the translocation program unless new information or changed circumstances indicate that containment is not likely to jeopardize the species," said Diane Noda, field supervisor of the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office. "Removing sea otters under the current circumstances violates the Service's duty under the Endangered Species Act to avoid actions that would likely jeopardize the continued existence of the species."
The Service bases this policy on a July 2000 biological opinion which concluded that removing otters from the "management zone" would likely jeopardize the existence of the southern sea otter, a federally protected threatened species.
The Service is preparing a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate new information on the translocation program. The agency expects to complete the EIS and to finalize its evaluation of the translocation program by December 2002. The evaluation will consider whether to modify or terminate the program, based on the survival and recovery needs of the otter. The Service held a series of public meetings in August 2000 to solicit public input on the supplemental EIS. Based on that input, the Service will publish a scoping report identifying alternatives to be considered in the draft supplemental EIS. The draft supplemental EIS will be released for public comment later this year.
The purpose of the 1987 translocation program was to help sea otters recover by establishing an experimental colony of otters at San Nicolas Island. As part of this program, 140 otters were moved to the island; however, an independent colony of sea otters at the island has not been established. Only about 20 otters currently inhabit the island area.
Part of the translocation program called for removing southern sea otters from a "management zone" south of Point Conception, Santa Barbara County. Several sea otters were known or suspected to have died within two weeks of being removed from the management zone, and some otters returned to the management zone after being moved hundreds of miles. The Service discontinued removal of otters in 1993 in part because of concerns over the deaths of several otters.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million acre National Wildlife Refuge System, consisting of 531 refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the ESA, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.
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