WDFW recommends retaining unlisted status for Steller sea lions

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking public input on its state status review for Steller sea lions.

The department removed Steller sea lions from Washington’s threatened species list in 2015.  WDFW biologists at that time assessed Washington Steller sea lions as fully recovered.

Under further periodic review required by state law, agency wildlife managers continue to recommend unlisted status for Steller sea lions given sustained population growth.

“Steller sea lion recovery has met with success in the state, with pup counts rising over the decades under protective status in Washington, and Steller sea lions still protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, said Taylor Cotten, Conservation Assessment section manager at WDFW. “With Steller sea lions recovered, the agency can now devote greater attention to other species in more dire straits.”

Public comment on the report and listing recommendations will be accepted through July 14, 2021.

The Steller sea lion report is available at our species status review webpage.

WDFW staff members are tentatively scheduled to discuss their reports and recommendations with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its August meeting.

For meeting dates and times, check the commission webpage at wdfw.wa.gov/commission.

Steller sea lions are the larger of the two sea lion species found in Washington. The species initially received federal protection in 1990. In October 2013, with populations rising from some 18,000 animals in 1979 to more than 70,000, the National Marine Fisheries Services removed Endangered Species Act protections for the population of Steller sea lions living in the area from southeastern Alaska south through Washington and into northern California.

As populations have recovered, increasing numbers of Steller sea lions have traveled up the Columbia River to forage, and can prey on imperiled salmon and steelhead runs at choke points like Bonneville Dam. As a result, state and tribal managers last year received expanded authorization to lethally remove sea lions in a stretch of the lower river.

Although Steller sea lions have been delisted federally and in Washington, the species still receives protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Under current status as delisted in Washington, the Steller sea lion continues to be classified as protected wildlife in the state.

Forty-six species of fish and wildlife are protected as state endangered, threatened or sensitive species.

Written comments on the reports and recommendations can be submitted via email to [email protected] or by mail to Taylor Cotten, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.