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August 13, 2013

Groups Intervene in Lawsuit to Support End of California’s ‘No-Otter Zone’

Sea otters should be allowed to naturally expand their habitat into the waters of Southern California, which they occupied prior to being almost exterminated for the fur trade. The Humane Society of the United States and Defenders of Wildlife, along with Friends of the Sea Otter and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed to intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of the animals. The groups seek to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s  halt to a failed policy of trying to capture sea otters from the so-called ‘no-otter zone’ in Southern California and translocate them to other areas.

Ralph Henry, deputy director of animal protection litigation for The HSUS, said: “The end of the no-otter zone was an important victory for California sea otters that will protect individual animals from death and injuries from transport, and help the species recover by allowing otters to repopulate their natural range without the threat of deportation. Our groups will ensure that victory is not overturned.”

California sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In 1987, the FWS established a translocation program under which sea otters were removed from specific areas along the coast of Southern California, and relocated with the hope of establishing a second viable population that would protect the species in the event of any environmental disaster. However most of the captured otters died or disappeared and translocation failed to promote otter recovery. More than a decade ago, FWS stopped capturing the otters and recently determined that the no-otter zone violates the ESA by jeopardizing the species’ recovery due to harm to the species during transport.

Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife said: “The southern sea otter is a keystone species in the kelp forest ecosystems off the California coast. By protecting the southern sea otter’s ability to recolonize its natural habitat, we also promote healthy marine ecosystems, benefitting the recreation and tourism industries and even fighting global warming. The FWS’ decision to end the failed translocation program was based on sound science and we are confident that the court will uphold that decision.”

The FWS has long recognized that natural range expansion is critical to the recovery of sea otters. The lawsuit, filed by four fishing organizations, seeks to force the FWS to reinstate the no-otter zone to prevent sea otters from competing with fishermen for urchins and abalone.

The groups are represented by the non-profit public interest law organization Earthjustice. 

Media Contacts:

The HSUS: Kaitlin Sanderson, (301) 721-6463, ksanderson@humanesociety.org 

Defenders of Wildlife: Courtney Sexton, (202) 772-0253, csexton@defenders.org

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