A coalition of organizations welcomed news that California’s struggling sea otters may soon get a big boost thanks to a draft plan released by federal wildlife officials today. The plan would end a controversial “no-otter” zone on the California coast and allow the marine mammals to re-colonize their traditional habitat.
California sea otters are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1986, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) implemented a translocation program that removed otters from the shoreline of Southern California and relocated them to San Nicolas Island, with the hope of establishing a second viable population that would protect the species in the event of any environmental disaster. At the same time, FWS implemented a “no-otter” zone south of Point Conception in which otters would be removed and transported back north of the zone’s boundary.
Translocation failed to promote otter recovery, and FWS subsequently determined that enforcement of the “no-otter” zone violates the ESA by jeopardizing the species’ recovery due to harm to the species during transport. FWS has long recognized that natural range expansion is necessary to achieve species recovery for the California sea otter.
For the next 60 days, FWS is soliciting public input on the proposal before making a final decision. Conservation groups that have been focused on efforts to aid the otter’s recovery were quick to commend FWS’ proposal to end the translocation program and allow for the species’ natural range expansion.
Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Sea Otter, The Humane Society of the United States, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, issued the following statement:
“Today is a good day for California sea otters. We support an end to the ineffective and harmful translocation program and “no-otter” management zone. For sea otters to have a real shot at recovery, they must be allowed to return to their historic range off the coast of Southern California. If sea otters thrive again throughout their historic range, the entire marine ecosystem will benefit.”
How you can help:
The Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to open its 60-day comment period in the next week or so. We will provide a link on our www.saveseaotters.org web page when it’s available so you can let the FWS know that you want the no-otter zone gone!