Feds Seek Public Input on Whether to Help Sea Otters Expand Range
Wednesday, June 21, 2023
The public can weigh in on the possibility of reintroducing sea otters to stretches of the California and Oregon coasts at a series of open houses this week and next, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Historically, a quarter million sea otters lived along the Pacific Rim, but fur traders hunted them to near extinction. The southern sea otter population in California expanded from a few dozen 100 years ago to about 3000 now.
Lilian Carswell, southern sea otter recovery and marine conservation coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the open houses are an opportunity to hear the concerns of community members and stakeholders.
"We want to provide an opportunity for people to just talk face-to-face and ask questions and share their perspectives," Carswell explained. "All the information that we get will be used to help inform next steps, if any."
Right now, sea otters range from Santa Barbara to San Mateo counties but are hemmed in by white shark populations. In the future, otters could be released in estuaries where they'd be safe from sharks, as has been done in Monterey. Otters are beneficial to their ecosystems, in particular, because they reduce the sea urchin population, which has devastated kelp beds. Kelp provides habitat for many species while sequestering carbon.
Andrew Johnson, California representative for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, said the nonprofit conservation group is working with stakeholders to figure out what would be necessary for reintroduction and establish the best potential locations.
"The idea is to try to jump over this area where there seems to be poor habitat and a lot of white shark presence," Johnson noted. "Trying to get them up into the areas where they can continue their expansion and repopulation of these historical areas."
Early next year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a decision on whether reintroduction should be part of the management strategy for southern sea otters.
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