The U.S. Senate has voted to allow state governments and Indian tribes to kill the sea lions that eat salmon swimming in the Columbia River.
The bill approved on Thursday had the support of all of the senators from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. A similar bill in the House passed by a more than two-to-one margin in June.
The legislation allows the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue one-year permits to government and tribal agencies to kill predators. The permittees are limited to killing fewer than 100 sea lions.
There was no debate on the bill Thursday in the Senate. But in the House debate last summer, several Northwest legislators, including the bill’s sponsor, argued the bill is essential for saving endangered salmon species. This is southwest Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler.
“It’s practically a miracle when a fish can make it upstream without getting caught between a sea lion’s teeth. They certainly get caught unscathed. Mr. Speaker, what we currently have on the Columbia River is an ecosystem seriously out of balance,” Beutler said.
And that’s why one Arizona lawmaker argued his colleagues should first consider other measures to save salmon. Democrat Raul Grijalva said killing sea lions would solve only one small part of the salmon dilemma. He listed several other factors he considers more important.
“Habitat loss and degradation," were at the top of Grijalva's list. "Pesticides and toxic contaminants polluting tributary habitat. Hydropower. Invasive species. Hatcheries. Overfishing.” Also on the list, climate change and the federal government's petition to stop extra spill over Columbia River dams meant to help young salmon reach the ocean.
The bill approved by the Senate was sponsored by Idaho Republican Jim Risch and Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell. It’s slightly different than the House version. Risch’s spokeswoman says she expects the House will take the modified version before the end of the year.