“The report reaffirms that a passive southern sea otter recovery program cannot resolve threats to the population and that managers must incorporate the latest science into recovery criteria.” says Andrew Johnson, California representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
Today, Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) released the report, Roadmap: Recovery of the Southern Sea Otter. Since 1977 the southern sea otter has been protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other laws. In recent years, new threats to the species have emerged, including shark attacks, coastal pollution, disease and climate change. These threats have grown, even though from 2016 to 2018, the average population size reached a level that could have triggered a review for possible removal of the species from the ESA list.
In response to these developments, Friends of the Sea Otter commissioned a report to obtain opinions from a wide range of experts and stakeholders on the questions of whether the southern sea otter remains in need of protection under the ESA and whether the assumptions in the 2003 ESA Recovery Plan remain valid. “The fundamental question is not how abundant the population is, but rather what is its risk of extinction and does it still need the extra protections provided by the Endangered Species Act. Given the multiple threats to the population and the challenges associated with characterizing and managing those threats, the answer is yes, it still does need those protections." says Dr. Tim Ragen, former Executive Director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission.
The report, prepared by the independent firm Upwelling Consulting, found a strong consensus for pursuing additional actions to achieve recovery, amending the Recovery Plan to reflect those needed actions and re-evaluating the delisting threshold—the number of sea otters deemed sufficient to consider the species recovered. Jennifer Covert, Chair of the FSO Board, states, “The southern sea otter has been the beneficiary of strong protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but still the population faces a very uncertain future as it confronts new and significant threats. Through the Upwelling Consulting report, a game plan for next steps is clearly presented.”
“The report reaffirms that a passive southern sea otter recovery program cannot resolve threats to the population and that managers must incorporate the latest science into recovery criteria.” says Andrew Johnson, California representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Even though the population hasn’t expanded its range in two decades, field research has ceased, baseline monitoring has diminished and the study of morbidity and mortality has dwindled. Given these circumstances, Defenders supports the conclusions of the report and urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise the southern sea otter recovery plan with active management measures that will help southern sea otters flourish throughout their historical range. Without a more dynamic strategy, we may never see true recovery of this iconic species.”
“Having been involved in the development of the current recovery plan published in 2003, I can see that some of the assumptions used to predict when the southern sea otter would be adequately protected from threats to its existence to justify delisting under the ESA have proven to be incorrect,” says Don Baur, a partner with Perkins Coie and former General Counsel of the Marine Mammal Commission, who has served as legal counsel for FSO for over 30 years. “In reviewing the scientific information that is now available, the only possible conclusion is that recovery of the southern sea otter population is not close at hand. Therefore, the recovery plan needs to be amended so that it can serve its legally mandated purpose as a blueprint for the actions necessary to bring this species back from the threat of extinction.”
The Upwelling Consulting Report can be found here.