WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ended its 25-year-old translocation program for endangered southern sea otters off the Southern California coast because it hasn’t worked.
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The decision comes after a decade-long evaluation of the program and alternatives. The program was established in 1987 to protect sea otters from an environmental catastrophe, such as an oil spill, to promote recovery of the endangered species and protect them from commercial fishing and other dangers.
“One hundred and forty sea otters were moved to San Nicolas Island from the population along the Central California coast in 1987, but most left the island within days, many returning to their parent population along the Central Coast. Since that time, the population of otters at San Nicolas Island has remained small. Contrary to the primary recovery objective of the program, the translocation of sea otters to San Nicolas Island did not result in an established population that could serve as a source of animals to repopulate other areas of the range if a catastrophic event struck the mainland population,” Fish & Wildlife said in a statement.
The termination ends the designation of an experimental population and eliminates the translocation and management zones, the requirement to remove sea otters from the “otter-free” management zone, and the requirement to remove otters from San Nicolas Island at the end of the program, allowing the otters to expand their range without interference.
The agency published its final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the program in a Nov. 9 proposed rule , which listed several alternatives for the program, including taking no action, resuming the translocation plan, and three options for ending the program. Fish & Wildlife chose to terminate the program and allow the sea otters to stay where they are.
Listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1977, fewer than 2,800 otters remain in the main population, and 50 at San Nicolas Island, the agency said.
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