[MARMAM] Extended Comment Deadline: Letter From Concerned Scientists_Southern Sea Otter Translocation Program

Jim Curland curland at earthlink.net
Wed Jan 4 08:58:28 PST 2006

Dear Marmam members,

The SEIS for the Southern Sea Otter Translocation Program is available 
for public comment and the deadline has been extended until March 6, 
2006.  A coalition of groups that are working on drafting comments 
(Defenders of Wildlife, The Ocean Conservancy, Friends of the Sea Otter, 
Sea Otter Defense Initiative, a project of Earth Island Institute's 
International Marine Mammal Project, and The Humane Society of the 
United States)  thought it would be good to circulate a letter to get 
sign-ons for this very critical policy issue for southern sea otter 
recovery.  Please let me know (all of my contact information is below 
this letter):  your name, title, affiliation if you would like to sign 
on to this letter.  For the first go round of collecting signatures, I 
did not receive many e-signatures, so I think we will forego this.  I 
will just list names, titles, affiliations.  Defenders was an exhibitor 
at the SMM biennial and thank you to those who signed the letter at the 
conference and to those who have emailed me thus far.  If you would like 
to sign on, please let me know by February 28th.  If you have any 
interest in reviewing any of the SEIS before agreeing to sign on, please 
visit:  http://www.fws.gov/ventura/es/SSOrecplan/seaotter_index.html


Jim Curland, Marine Program Associate
Defenders of Wildlife


XX, 2006

Diane Noda
Field Supervisor
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office
2493 Portola Road, Suite B
Ventura, California 93003-7726

Dear Diane Noda:

We applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) preferred 
alternative presented in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact 
Statement (DSEIS) on the translocation of southern sea otters.  The 
DSEIS represents an important and scientifically responsible step toward 
successfully recovering the southern sea otter.  In the final SEIS and 
proposed regulations to implement it, we strongly urge the FWS to 
implement the preferred alternative of terminating the Southern Sea 
Otter translocation program, ending the no-otter management zone south 
of Pt. Conception, and allowing the sea otters currently residing south 
of Pt. Conception, including sea otters residing around San Nicholas 
Island, to remain.  This action will allow sea otters to move freely and 
naturally expand their range, which will help ensure this species' 
survival and recovery.

Historically, the southern sea otter could be found all along the 
California coast and into Baja California, likely numbering 16,000 in 
the 1800s. Fur traders then killed almost all southern sea otters, with 
only a few dozen surviving in a remote cove off of Big Sur. They were 
declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1977, and 
today there are about 2,500 sea otters along our coast. Sea otters are 
the classic example of a keystone species. Sea otters allow for a 
natural check in the nearshore ecosystem by keeping populations of 
invertebrate grazers, such as sea urchins, from overtaking the system 
and denuding the kelp forests. The near-extinction of sea otters along 
the California coast altered the coastal ecosystem; bringing back sea 
otters throughout their range represents a critical step to restoring 
coastal ecosystems--creating healthy kelp forests and diverse 
populations of fish and invertebrate species.

In 1987, the FWS began a translocation program to establish a new colony 
of southern sea otters on San Nicolas Island (SNI) in an attempt to 
protect the species from a catastrophic event (e.g. oil spill) and 
ultimately restore their dwindling numbers off the coast of California. 
Out of the original 140 sea otters translocated from 1987-1990 to SNI, 
just over 30 remain at the island today.  The others either died or swam 
away and three years after the translocation program ended in 1990, 
there were fewer than 25 sea otters at SNI.  While the population at SNI 
has shown some signs of recruitment, it is far from the predicted viable 
population that FWS estimated at between 150-500 sea otters.  

In addition, capturing and transporting sea otters tends to be 
unsuccessful because typically the sea otter is harmed or simply swims 
back to its initial location.  For example, between 1987 and 1993, 24 
sea otters were moved, 4 of those animals died.  Also introducing a new 
sea otter into an already existing group of sea otters may disrupt the 
established social hierarchy of that group.  Because moving sea otters 
places them at risk, the FWS and the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Team 
concluded that moving otters and impeding natural range expansion 
southward is likely to jeopardize the species' continued existence.

The southern sea otter translocation program has failed to meet its 
objective of establishing a viable, independent colony of sea otters to 
serve as a safeguard for the population, as a whole, in the event of a 
natural or human-caused event.  The recovery and management goals for 
southern sea otters cannot be met by continuing the program. Given that 
in the last ten years, the southern sea otter population has exhibited 
periods of growth and decline, and is still listed as threatened under 
the ESA, we are especially pleased to see the FWS recommendation to both 
protect and allow the sea otters currently in the translocation and 
management zones to remain.  Implementation of the preferred alternative 
in the DSEIS will ensure a sustainable sea otter population and will 
allow sea otters to expand their range.  We strongly urge you to 
finalize the SEIS and implement the preferred alternative.


Provide Name, Title, Affiliation

Jim Curland, Marine Program Associate
Defenders of Wildlife
P.O. Box 959
Moss Landing, CA. 95039
831-726-9010 (phone)
831-726-9020 (fax)
jcurland at defenders.org

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native wild 
animals and plants in their natural communities. We focus our 
programs on what scientists consider two of the most serious 
environmental threats to the planet: the accelerating rate of 
extinction of species and the associated loss of biological diversity, 
and habitat  alteration and destruction. Long known for our 
leadership on endangered species issues, Defenders of Wildlife also 
advocates new approaches to wildlife conservation that will help 
keep species from becoming endangered. Our programs encourage 
protection of entire ecosystems and interconnected habitats while 
protecting predators that serve as indicator species for ecosystem 


(Defenders' Main Sea Otter Page)
(Defenders' Sea Otter Teaching Unit)
(Defenders' Marine Program Page)
(Defenders' California Marine Program Page)

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