June 1, 2012
The U.S. Navy and the sea otters are battling it out over the use of water off the coast of Southern California.
A bill introduced by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties) potentially could impact the southern sea otter population. H.R. 4043, otherwise known as the Military Readiness and Southern Sea Otter Conservation Act, was passed in the House of Representatives on May 18th as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 4310. The bill essentially exempts the U.S. military from liability of harming or killing sea otters. The military would be allowed to conduct their exercises in designated “military readiness zones” uninhibited by the protection laws guarding the sea otter species. The designated areas would be off the coast of U.S. Naval and Marine Corp bases on San Nicolas Island, San Clemente Island and Camp Pendleton.
Representative Gallegly's bill addresses the the conflict of migrating sea otters into the waters where U.S. Naval testing occurs. “[Sea otters] will be invading U.S. Naval testing areas,” says Representative Gallegly, according to a statement on his website. “While I fully support the recovery efforts of the sea otter, this does not have to happen at the expense of our national security,” he says.
Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO), an advocacy group that works to protect southern sea otters, is staunchly opposed to this bill. “The bill essentially sets precedent for endangered and threatened animals that are seen as inconvenient to well-connected special interest, ” says program manager for FSO, Jason Lutterman. The most recent survey of southern sea otter found their population has declined for two consecutive years, according to the FSO website. The southern sea otter is listed federally as an endangered species and their current population is 2,700.
H.R. 4310, which includes the amendment H.R. 4340, still must be passed by the Senate and signed by the president before it becomes a law.