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Death Penalty Returns For Bonneville Sea Lions

The federal government has reauthorized the death penalty for the most troublesome California sea lions which congregate at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

A lawsuit by the Humane Society of the United States forced a temporary halt to selective killing of sea lions below Bonneville Dam. Northwest states, tribes and the federal fisheries agency went back to the drawing board.

Now they've returned with pretty much the same answer as before regarding how to stop sea lions from eating too many threatened salmon.

Federal fish biologist Garth Griffin says the new quota is 92 sea lions per year, although he expects the actual number put down to be much lower.

California sea lion feasts on a salmon. Photo courtesy of CRITFC
California sea lion feasts on a salmon. Photo courtesy of CRITFC

"While it's no fun to have to do these hard balancing of wildlife management choices that have to be made, this is something that Congress put in place," Griffin says. "We're not shying away from that responsibility to do so."

Griffin says trapping and lethal injection of specific sea lions on a wanted list can start Tuesday. That coincides with the spring salmon run.

A spokeswoman for the Humane Society responds that group still doesn't believe the killing policy makes sense. Sharon Young says sea lions ate a very low percentage of the imperiled fish passing the dam last year.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.