I attended the first hearing for our lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service last week in San Jose. Unfortunately no decisions have been made yet, so I don’t have a lot to report regarding the case.
I can say that I am disappointed by some of the Services’ arguments against being asked to make a final decision regarding the no otter zone.
For those of you who are new to the issue, the no otter zone in a nutshell: sea otters are prohibited in southern California due to an outdated policy intended to protect otters in the 1980s. The government has been telling the public that it planned to update the regulations, likely ending the no otter zone, for many many years. They never did, so The Otter Project & Environmental Defense Center are suing for a final decision. That covers 20+ years of history in 3 sentences, so if you have any questions, you can read a full account of the no otter zone on our website.
In spite of years of saying that the no otter zone was a bad idea that was bad for otters and ought to be taken care of, the government’s response to the lawsuit has been to dig its heels in and say “we don’t hafta”. In much more official sounding language of course.
Hearing them make the claim that they have no obligation to do anything about the no otter zone ever was quite interesting, and even the judge seemed a bit incredulous about the matter. He asked some pointed questions about the inclusion of failure criteria and the intention behind evaluation of the program. We believe that the regulations DO require the government to act to address their failed policy, including their long history of promising to the public that they were going to do just that.
It’s a bit frustrating that at a time when the sea otter population is struggling, and in decline, to see the government not ONLY sit on its hands and do nothing, but spend resources fighting for the right to do so! Of course the government claims that the Service isn’t sitting on its hands but is actively monitoring the population. Why, the attorney claimed righteously, the Service has even issued a stock report! This would sound great, except for the fact that the Service has issued a single stock report in the sea otters 30 + years of listing as a protected species. Stock assessments are supposed to be issued every 1 to 3 years under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a rule that has absolutely nothing to do with the no otter zone or the lawsuit. Oh, and the Service had to be sued to do even that.
Well, it sounded good.
I know I’m biased, but I think our attorney Brian Segee from the Environmental Defense Center did a fantastic job speaking up for the otters, supported by chief attorney Linda Krop. Right before our case was heard, Linda pulled a small sea otter talisman of carved black stone out of her purse—“for good luck” she told me. We won’t know for sure for a little while, but I think it worked.
Meanwhile we’re waiting on a ruling on whether or not the case will move forward, with our fingers crossed and our otter talismans working overtime.