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This year’s defense authorization bill (H.R. 1960) has left many conservationists and animal lovers angry because of a newly added provision that would exempt the U.S. Navy from two federal conservation laws – the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act – even though these two laws already contain provisions that make it easier for the military to set up operations and provide exemptions if national security is truly threatened.

With its new language, the defense bill would effectively reduce the amount of protection California’s threatened southern sea otters are currently benefiting from by diminishing their protected habitat range.

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According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, the provision would “thwart conservation efforts [in California], relieving the military of its basic legal obligation to minimize impacts on this species to the extent practicable.”

The new bill language is particularly troubling if California’s southern sea otter history is taken into consideration.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the state’s sea otters were hunted to near-extinction. In an attempt to revive the population and lessen human-wildlife conflicts, a federal relocation program was instituted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, designating certain areas along the U.S. Pacific coast “no otter zones.”

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Yet in 2012, the 24-year program was deemed a failure and finally put to an end as a number of sea otters died from stress caused by relocation while others simply swam back into the “no otter zones,” reports KCET.

The new provision is also problematic as recent research has unearthed the great roles sea otters play as climate warriors, reviving vital marine kelp forests and sea grass (both of which are carbon-fighting plants). If already threatened sea otters are put under even more stress, we could see ripple effects throughout California’s marine ecosystem.

The defense authorization bill has already passed the U.S. House and is currently in the Senate. The bill is planned to come to a vote on the Senate floor by Thanksgiving.

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Be a voice for the sea otters and take action before the bill officially passes into law. If you’re from Calif., call Sen. Diane Feinstein’s office at (202) 224-3841, and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s at (202) 224-3553 and ask that the new provision language be kept out of the final defense bill. If you’re not from Calif., be sure to spread the word about the provision by sharing this information on your social media pages.

To track the bill’s journey, visit GovTrack here.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons