Oregon begins killing sea lions after relocation fails

FILE - In this March 14, 2018 file photo, a California sea lion that was trapped at Willamette Falls in the lower Willamette River waits to be released into the Pacific Ocean near Newport, Ore. A bill making it easier to kill sea lions that feast on imperiled salmon in the Columbia River has cleared the U.S. Senate. The measure would allow a more streamlined process for Washington, Idaho, Oregon and several Pacific Northwest tribes to capture and euthanize sea lions. The bill sponsored by Idaho Sen. Jim Risch and Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell cleared the Senate Thursday, Dec. 6. It's similar to legislation that the U.S. House passed in June. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)
In this March 14, 2018, photo, a California sea lion that was trapped at Willamette Falls waits to be released into the Pacific Ocean near Newport, Oregon. –Don Ryan / AP, File

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon wildlife officials have started killing sea lions that threaten a fragile run of winter steelhead in the Willamette River.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife obtained a federal permit in November to kill up to 93 California sea lions per year below Willamette Falls south of Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Wednesday.

Officials have so far killed three of the animals using traps they used last year to relocate the sea lions.

The sea lions were eating so many winter steelhead at the falls that certain runs were at a high risk of going extinct, according to a 2017 study by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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The state plans to kill about 40 sea lions that frequent the falls by May, said Bryan Wright, a program manager for the department. The number of sea lions that return to the river should drop to single digits following the killings, he said.

“The only fish in the river right now are the winter steelhead,” Wright said. “If we can remove all these sea lions right now that will be a huge benefit to them.”

Wildlife officials moved about a dozen sea lions to the coast near Newport, but the animals ended up swimming back to Willamette Falls. Officials determined relocation was not a long-term solution.

“Unfortunately, that didn’t work,” Wright said. “But one benefit of that work was that we figured out how to safely capture them, move them, transfer them and figure out all the logistics. Because of that effort we were able to quickly pick up where we left off and start the lethal removal program using the same techniques.”