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Feds End California's "No-Otter" Zone

PHOTO: Sea otters will now be welcome in Southern California. Courtesy of Cindy Tucey.
PHOTO: Sea otters will now be welcome in Southern California. Courtesy of Cindy Tucey.
December 19, 2012

Sea otters are now welcome in Southern California.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ending the "no-otter" zone that's been in place for nearly 25 years. When the zone was originally established, the idea was to relocate sea otters to one of the Channel Islands to establish a reserve population.

The translocation program was a good idea at the time, says Dr. Jim Estes, a leading expert on sea otters, but it ultimately failed to promote sea otter recovery.

"What's happened is that otters have spread on their own. The numbers of individuals have not increased very much, and so the southern sea otter's still not recovered. And if it is going to recover, it's going to have to continue to expand into Southern California."

California sea otters are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The 1986 translocation program was designed as a way to establish a second viable sea otter population in the event of an oil spill or other environmental disaster.

The Fish and Wildlife Service eventually determined that enforcement of the "no-otter" zone jeopardized the continued survival of the species, because of the harm caused when moving sea otters out of the zone. Estes sees the end of the no-otter zone as an important step in the recovery of the species.

"On top of all of that, we now know that they're going to have a lot of positive influences on the system by the enhancement of kelp forests and all that. So, it's a really complex issue with an important historical component, an important legal component and important ecological component."

Estes recently joined the board of directors of Friends of the Sea Otter, the oldest sea otter conservation organization in the world, which will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA