The long war between otters and the U.S. federal government is finally over, and the otters have won.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has abandoned its plan to relocate otters from coastal waters reserved for commercial fisherman.
For the past 25 years, the government agency had been working to relocate the otters, but was finally forced to admit the program had been a failure.
"As a result," it allows sea otters to expand their range naturally into Southern California," reads a notice published in the Federal Register.
In the late 1980s, the federal government attempted to relocate about 140 otters from Southern California’s Point Conception to a location in Central California. However, some of the otters simply swam back to their original habitat while others died shortly after being moved. Officials say part of the plan was to establish a reserve colony of otters in case a natural disaster were to strike their main habitat.
An August 2012 release from the U.S. Geological Survey says the wild otter population has been decimated from its previous heights, while efforts to rebuild the population have been “slow.” Only a reported 2,792 sea otters exist in the wild, down from as many as 16,000 before hunting dwindled their numbers.
"Just as the polar bear has become symbolic of protecting the Arctic, so is the status of the sea otter emblematic of the health of the Central California Coast," USGS Director Marcia McNutt said in the release. "These annual surveys and the associated studies to understand the drivers for population changes are critical factors in ensuring the continuing survival of not just the sea otter, but the entire complex ecosystem for which this icon is integral."
And as the L.A. Times notes, while the announcement of the failed otter relocation program may annoy local fisherman, it was celebrated by local conservation groups.
"It's long overdue," Jim Curland, advocacy program director for Friends of the Sea Otter, told the paper.