June 2, 2013

Dam Guardian Report - May 31, 2013

By Ashley Lenton, Dam Guardian Campaign Leader and Sandy McElhaney, Dam Guardian Campaign Volunteer

One of our clients stopped by to say "Hello"One of our clients stopped by to say "Hello"
Photo: Sea Shepherd
On May 15, 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) authorized the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife to add 16 so-called “newly identified predatory sea lions” to the death list at the Bonneville Dam. What this means is that if any of these sea lions are observed eating even one salmon near the dam, they can be killed by shotgun or lethal injection. Meanwhile, local anglers are encouraged to cast their lines into the river and to take home the daily fresh catch. What heinous crimes landed the Bonneville 16 onto the death list of 155 (42 of whom are now dead and 13 on captive display)? Well, C027, who was branded on April 30, was charged with being seen in the dam’s observation area for five days and consuming an estimated three salmon. C029, also branded on April 30, was seen for five days and is charged with eating seven salmon. B386, an unbranded sea lion, is alleged to have consumed 39 salmon over the course of nine days in 2013. This allegation – which could very well cost this sea lion his life – sounds like a fish tale to us. We aren’t buying it and we want to see conclusive evidence.

Our Dam Guardians have been on-site at the Bonneville Dam since March 15, 2013. We have monitored the sea lions, the salmon, the fishermen, the hazers, the branders and the observers. The few sea lions in the observation area at the dam’s powerhouse don’t exactly hold up signs announcing their presence. Their lower backs (which is where the brands are located) are almost always underwater. The Army Corps of Engineers spotters at the dam, who can generally be seen dozing off while listening to their iPods, must be equipped with some special underwater vision that allows them to make ridiculous claims that can mean life or death for sea lions whose ancestors have been on the Columbia River far longer than any of ours have.

We call foul on the Oregon and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife workers who inhumanely brand sea lions under the auspices of “research” at the Port of Astoria. In particular, Oregon’s Matt Tennis claims to “respect” the sea lions via social media. We fail to see how pressing red hot irons into the flesh of wild animals, stepping on their fresh wounds in work boots, poking them with sticks and shoving boards onto their noses is a sign of respect. Furthermore, we wonder if the ODFW would agree with paying its employees to be spending time on Facebook during the workday and, in the case of Dan Heiner, to be literally standing around picking his nose on the docks of Astoria. If so, we wonder how state taxpayers feel about this matter. Likewise, we wonder how federal taxpayers feel about paying the salary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) employees who circle the dam complex all day long in their pickup trucks, pausing periodically to fire off pyrotechnics at the birds, sea lions, and even the Dam Guardians on at least one occasion. On May 13, one of our Dam Guardian volunteers required medical attention after a bird hazer shot an explosive round within five feet of the Dam Guardian’s vehicle. This particular hazer routinely fires his weapon from the comfort of the driver’s seat inside his truck. In this instance, his recklessness left an adult with acoustic trauma, temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. Between fishermen and tourists, there are numerous visitors to the dam complex on a daily basis. What if a small child or pet had wandered nearby?

Unfortunately, government employees are not the only ones harassing the sea lions. Members of the local tribes, who have very generous treaty rights to the Columbia River salmon, are heavily involved in efforts to rid the river of the sea lions. The tribes, represented by the group Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), have a 10-year, multi-million dollar grant from the Columbia Basin Fish Accords to haze sea lions. This money funds a small boat and crew who race up and down the Columbia River firing off rounds at sea lions like a bunch of thugs. As we witness this mayhem day in and day out, we can only wonder what kind of impact this explosive arsenal has on the already fragile water quality and also on the salmon. CRITFC claims to be “Salmon People,” but if that truly was the case, wouldn’t they acknowledge that of all of the insults that pose a threat to the salmon on the Columbia River the sea lions are the least culpable? In fact, when one looks at the manmade dam, the non-native fish, industrial pollution and overfishing with a capital O, the ONLY natural relationship on the Columbia is that of sea lions and salmon. Maybe they are salmon people only in regards to how much they can catch with their many poles and miles of nets.

In a 2009 video to demonstrate the sea lion traps at the Bonneville Dam, Doug Hatch, a Senior Scientist from CRITFC commented, “Humans don’t predate on salmon.” When a member of the press asked Hatch why the native people aren’t understanding to the plight of the sea lions, Hatch commented, “I’m a scientist and I’m not going to address that no matter how many times you ask.” Don’t take our word, please watch the video below for yourself. It speaks volumes about the intelligence and mentality of those behind the lethal sea lion removal program.

We have spoken with many local fishermen and community members. Most of the people we encounter welcome our presence and are appalled by the states’ use of tax dollars for this lethal removal program. On May 25, Mayor Don Stevens of North Bonneville welcomed Sea Shepherd and our colleagues from the Sea Lion Defense Brigade at a community-wide celebration of the indigenous Columbia River sea lions. Likewise, we find that much of the non-tribal fishing community enjoys seeing the sea lions as much as we do. These fishermen acknowledge the sea lions’ rights to eating for sustenance. A soldier getting ready to ship off to Afghanistan recently told us, ”The sea lions have every right to fish just like we do.”

Humans created the myriad of problems on the Columbia River and humans need to fix them. When it comes down to it, we are all tribes of planet Earth and it is time to start acting like it. Real solutions have nothing to do with scapegoating sea lions. Real solutions have everything to do with cleaning up the river, fixing the dams, and removing the non-native and hatchery fish. A quick and easy start would be for those who fish along the banks of the Columbia River near the dam to take their trash with them when they leave. There are no trashcans at the dam complex. On a daily basis our Dam Guardians clean up yards of fishing line, tackle, empty food containers, soda cans, cigarette butts, dirty diapers and other carelessly discarded refuse left behind by those who seem to show little concern about the harmful consequences of their personal actions on a small or grand scale.

As we reach the end of the on-the-ground portion of the 2013 Dam Guardian Campaign, we give our thanks to the many Dam Guardian volunteers in Bonneville and at the Port of Astoria, who have traveled from around the world to monitor and report on the conditions along the Columbia River. In particular, we wish to acknowledge the following who have served since our last update: Alex, Biaggo, Airick, Courtney, Kathleen, Ben, Marty, M, Sabreena, Jaymi, Jordan, Graham, Be, Eric, Dorian, Franziska, Sidney, Andrew, Leslie, Clint, Graziella, Sebastien, Aaron, Scott, Elora, Nin and the amazing Frances.

The traps at the dam exactly the way we like to see them - empty!The traps at the dam exactly the way we like to see them - empty!
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Dam Guardians Ashley, Scott, Be, Ben, Courtney, Marty, Sandy, Alex & Biaggo at the Bonneville DamDam Guardians Ashley, Scott, Be, Ben, Courtney, Marty, Sandy, Alex & Biaggo at the Bonneville Dam
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Dam Guardians Frances, Leslie, Graham, Franziska and Dorian at the Port of AstoriaDam Guardians Frances, Leslie, Graham, Franziska and Dorian
at the Port of Astoria
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Dam Guardians
Visit our
Dam Guardians
site for more information.