Research on Stellar Sea Lions Halted May 31, 2006 9:35 AM
May 26, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) hailed today's decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia blocking invasive research on threatened and endangered Stellar sea lions on the West coast of the United States. The court put on hold additional research until the agency complies with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act.
The animal protection organization filed suit in July 2005 after NMFS issued numerous permits authorizing invasive research on the animals.
The research in question involved the annual capture and hot branding of 3,000 Steller sea lions. After branding, the sea lions were further subjected to painful research procedures, including teeth extraction and removal of fat and other tissue samples, often with no anesthesia.
"We are so pleased that the Court rejected the government's plan to hurt endangered sea lions first and think about the consequences later," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president of animal protection litigation for The HSUS.
NMFS had contended that the research was necessary to determine the nature and extent of the decline of the species. The HSUS, however, filed suit because the research was poorly conceived and could actually have adverse consequences for the Steller sea lion.
The HSUS had repeatedly asked NMFS to conduct a proper environmental evaluation of the effects of the research prior to issuing the research permits; to convene an expert panel to review the best methods of research; and to place a moratorium on the issuance of any further research permits until it has completed an evaluation of impacts of the current research.
In her order, Judge Ellen Huvelle granted The HSUS's motion for summary judgment on its NEPA claim, vacated the research permits and any permit amendments, and ordered NMFS to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement prior to issuing permits.
In light of the news, John Grandy, senior vice president for wildlife and habitat protection for The HSUS stated, "The obligation of scientists and the government to do no harm while conducting research is greatest when dealing with endangered species, whose very future can be jeopardized by invasive or harmful protocols."
The case is captioned The Humane Society of the United States, et al. v. The Department of Commerce, et al.
The plaintiffs in the case were represented pro bono by the law firm of Latham and Watkins and Kimberly McCormick, a public interest attorney in Washington State.
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