Mothering Day for Cormorants

Spring is finally here. People are starting seeds in their kitchen windows and preparing their gardens. Mother’s Day too is upon us. It’s so fitting that Mother’s Day is celebrated during spring while new life is all around us. Spring, and Mother’s Day, remind us that all new life needs to be nurtured, treasured, and protected. The caring drive that is in all of us makes us parents and guardians of the tender lives that are taking root, blossoming, hatching or being born right now.

Spring is a time to breathe a little easier, feel a little lighter as we see shoots sprouting from the ground and leaves forming on the once-barren trees. I hope that your hearts are lifted, as mine is at this lovely time.

And, I can share something else with you that will lighten your hearts even more.

This year, for the first time since 2008 Parks Canada will not be conducting their annual cull of Double-crested Cormorants on an island in Lake Erie. We have talked with you many times about this persecuted species. Like wolves and coyotes, and deer and beaver too, these native wild animals are so often targeted for killing by conservation and parks managers. You know that we will always oppose the lethal ‘management’ of wild animals, and promote peaceful co-existence with the natural world and all its inhabitants.

This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, their annual cull of cormorants has been called off.  So, a team of Parks Canada staff will not travel to Middle Island to kill birds.

This year, cormorant parents will not be shot off of their nests as they incubate their eggs. This year, mated pairs of cormorant parents will not be at risk of being left alone to incubate their eggs and then their offspring – a task too difficult to be successful. For this spring, all the birds on the island will not fly up in fear as shots ring out. Birds will not wheel around in the air, trying to return to their nests, only to be driven off again as shooting continues. This year, birds will not be driven by exhaustion at the end of the day to simply remain in their nests, even as the shooting continues, placing themselves at great risk.

For this wonderful year, here is what will happen, and is happening right now.

A vibrant, active and glorious sea bird nursery is teeming with birds of various species: our cormorant friends, as well as Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets and American white pelicans.

These colonial waterbirds are nesting, incubating their eggs in close proximity to each other in tree-top nests. Birds are flying in from the lake, returning to relieve their mates on their nests. Places are exchanged as each mate takes turns flying out to hunt for fish. The air is peaceful as the flight of the birds is unhurried. All around, birds fly to and from the island; some travelling far in small groups, others hunting for fish nearby. Birds are bringing in new nesting materials to firm up their nests. Cormorants are floating on the water, then quickly disappearing as they dive to catch a fish. Along the shoreline Canada Geese are swimming peacefully. The soft sound of bird call is mixing with the sound of the wind.

It’s a glorious time in this nursery for birds, thanks to the suspension of this year’s cull.

How do we know what is happening this year, you might ask?

And how do we know what has happened in so many previous years?

We know because each year Animal Alliance of Canada and the Animal Protection Party have hired a boat and captain to take our observers to Middle Island to monitor the cull. When Parks Canada shooters are on the island, we are anchored nearby to keep witness. This is a very expensive undertaking, but we are committed to be there when the killing is taking place. We believe that our presence makes it more likely that the shooters take more time to ensure that wounded birds are not left behind to suffer.

Middle Island cormorant cull

Wounded birds were left behind to endure prolonged deaths some years ago when the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conducted a cull on High Bluff Island at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. As several groups monitored that cull, we took video evidence of wounded birds left behind to die of starvation, too injured to dive for fish.

We have also been able to see with our own eyes how peaceful Middle Island, and other nearby island nurseries, are when shooters are not there. And, sadly we have observed how disturbed the birds are when their remote island is invaded so violently. We believe that it’s essential to let Parks Canada staff and management know that as long as they are killing birds, we will be there to keep watch.

Thanks to you we have been able to monitor and witness.

We have been able to hire those boats and send a staff member to monitor the shooting because of the generosity of so many of you. It’s not a happy assignment but a necessary one.  We will be heading to Middle Island once we’re able – to document what happens when there is no Parks Canada presence to disrupt the delicate ecosystem.  Thank you for giving us the resources to be able to make this important trip.

So, for this one year, let’s all breathe a little easier and think about a season of peace for parents and their young on Middle Island.

And, we ask you to take an ACTION to protect Double-crested Cormorants from a misguided law that has been proposed by Ontario’s provincial government, one that has the potential to kill thousands of cormorants in just one year.

Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford, and his government have started to implement one of the most regressive wildlife “management” programs in Canadian history.  The proposed changes are rooted in an irrational hatred for cormorants that will fuel their persecution and drive them back to the brink of extinction, or worse, in the province.

What Ontario’s government is proposing is to allow hunters to kill 50 cormorants a day! Once all the proposed legislative changes come into effect, one hunter will be able to legally kill over 14,000 cormorants in just one season. 

It wouldn’t take many people very long to wipe out most cormorants in the province. Cormorants would be reduced to just a tiny remnant of their population in a few protected areas. Double-crested Cormorants, a native migratory bird, could be driven back to near extinction in just one year.

You can learn more about this outrageous proposal by clicking here.  You can also read our rebuttals to the sorry excuses being given for what comes close to a provincially- sanctioned extermination plan, and learn more about how to help.

There’s still hope for cormorants if we act:

Canada’s federal government can, and should, protect Double-crested Cormorants under Canada’s Migratory Bird Convention Act, paralleling the U.S. listing, a reasonable and scientifically sound request.

Help Cormorants:  Oppose Ontario’s Plan!

Call or Write to the Honourable Jon Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Ask him to amend the Migratory Bird Convention Act to include Double-crested Cormorants who are migratory and should be protected under the Act.

A quick phone call or a brief email are the most effective.

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0A6

Telephone: 613-995-1225
Fax: 613-992-7319

Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca

Feds propose new rules for cormorant control

The federal government is often viewed, rightly or wrongly, as having an endless appetite for issuing rules and regulations. Ambitious politicians routinely promise that if we elect them they will put a stop to it, “cut through the red tape,” and perhaps even roll back regulations that are already on the books.

Not everyone is aware that the purpose of regulations is to interpret and provide guidelines for how the laws passed by these same politicians are to be carried out. The absence of regulations could be compared to a chef lacking recipes for the meals he’s expected to create. The chef may know what an entrée is supposed to look and taste like, but without knowing the ingredients—and how and when they should be assembled—the odds of having a great meal are poor. When all is said and done, some regulations are needed to carry out the intent of our laws.

There’s also a common belief that regulations are only about telling us what we can’t do. Don’t pour that used motor oil or paint thinner down your garage drain. Farmer, don’t locate a cattle feed lot where spring flooding can wash fish-killing nutrients into a nearby river. Fishermen, don’t catch and keep more than 10 crappies in a day’s fishing.

Some regulations, however, expand boundaries and make possible things that would otherwise be prohibited. A recent example is an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking”—the first step in proposing new regulations—in this case, for the management of a familiar Minnesota bird, the double-crested cormorant.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is considering whether to give state natural resource agencies more authority to control the population of these waterfowl that prey on small fish, including those prized by anglers, as well as fish raised in commercial aquaculture—fish farming—done primarily in the South. Minnesota’s Leech Lake and Lake of the Woods, to name just two state waters, have seen spikes in the number of double-crested cormorants. Not so long ago, a downturn in walleye numbers on Leech Lake was attributed—at least by some—to a growing population of nesting cormorants there.

Larger than a duck, but somewhat smaller than a common loon, cormorants nest in high-density colonies. Their “guano” is highly acidic, and the concentration found in these colonies can kill ground vegetation, and even the trees in which the birds nest. Cormorants can denude entire small islands, leaving them looking like they were chemically defoliated.

It is a human prejudice to describe a cormorant as unhandsome, but there is something almost vulture-like in their appearance, with large broad wings, a snake-like neck and hooked beak. A duck, goose, swan or loon is graceful by comparison. It may be a further irony that Minnesotans revere the common loon, even though it earns its living chiefly as cormorants do, by eating fish. The loon’s strikingly beautiful plumage, and its distinctive and haunting call, contribute to this prejudice in its favor. This, and the lore and legend that have linked the loon to wilderness.

Cormorants were at a population low point nationally in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But by the late 1990s, natural resource agencies in more than half the states were reporting declines in popular and valued fish in their waters. Agencies in 10 states were on record as considering the cormorant a major threat to their fisheries management programs.

One of the most important federal conservation laws ever enacted is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, an agreement initially between the U.S. and Great Britain—acting then on behalf of Canada—with Mexico later added to the agreement. This Act “makes it illegal to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter … any migratory bird … except under the terms of a valid federal permit.” The waterfowl hunting license we purchase for the privilege of hunting migratory ducks, geese, woodcock or snipe, is an example of such a “valid federal permit.”

Because cormorants are a migratory bird, they are protected under this Act. But from 2003 to 2016, in light of their depredations on wild fish stocks and fish farms, wildlife agencies in 24 states had broad authority to control cormorant populations that were considered a threat. In thirteen states, fish farmers had the right to control cormorants preying on their fish stocks without the need for individual permits.

This changed in 2016. A federal judge in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) ruled for plaintiffs who had objected to the “culling”—the killing—of cormorants under these broad permits during the 2003 to 2016 period. The judge found that the governing agency—the USFWS—had not sufficiently made the case for broad authority to kill cormorants, versus permits that would be sought on a case-by-case basis.

Since 2016, those “case-by-case” rules have been in place while the USFWS did its homework, and—it now appears—will try to make a better case to again give state agencies discretion to determine “whether, when, where and for what purpose, to control cormorants.” A similar proposal is being made by USFWS to allow the taking of cormorants without individual permits where they’re found to be causing fish farming losses.

For now, we’re in a 45-day public comment, which began on January 22nd, when this proposal was published. Comments received by USFWS may shape its decision on the degree of freedom the states should have in decisions to control—or not control–their cormorant populations. Also shaping these regulations—we can safely assume—will be a USFWS judgment on whether they would be likely to withstand another challenge in court.

Anglers and fish farmers will be eagerly awaiting the outcome.

Cormorants on the Astoria Bridge add new twist to management issues

Counting cormorants

James Lawonn with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife counts cormorants on the Astoria Bridge.

Double-crested cormorants nesting on the Astoria Bridge could come with a high cost to the state and more frequent maintenance interruptions for motorists.

The birds, seasonal visitors to the North Coast, have just begun to return to the estuary for breeding and nesting. No one knows how many will decide to settle on the bridge this year, but it was clearly a popular spot last year, as birds from the region’s largest colony continued to be hazed off East Sand Island downriver.

The number of double-crested cormorants nesting on the bridge jumped from a dozen pairs in 2004 to around 1,700 pairs last year, according to monitoring reports cited by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The leaps coincide with the beginning of lethal management of a massive double-crested cormorant colony on East Sand Island. The birds abandoned the island several times after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began shooting thousands of adult birds and destroying nests and eggs in 2015 to protect runs of young salmon.

The Audubon Society of Portland called a mass exodus in 2017 a “catastrophic collapse.”

Fish and wildlife researchers have since questioned the value of cormorant management in saving salmon. They say it was clear after each dispersal that cormorants were resettling on the bridge and farther upriver — areas where they could potentially impact even more salmon.

Cormorant droppings have accumulated on the bridge in layers so thick they have made it difficult for state inspectors to evaluate the structure. The droppings are also very corrosive, reducing the life span of the bridge’s protective steel coating.

“The potential expense we’re facing is a real worry to us,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Lou Torres.

Costly painting

The state repaints the Astoria Bridge every 20 years, a lengthy but necessary maintenance that has shut down lanes during busy summer months.

Work on the span only just concluded in 2018 and more work is planned in 2021 on the under truss, where many of the cormorants appear to nest.

“We’re really trying to get prepared for that,” Torres said.

Hazed birds flock to bridge

Cormorants rest below the Astoria Bridge.

He estimates it could cost around $80,000 to pressure-wash the bridge to complete required inspections. But that cost could quickly increase to $6 million if environmental agencies require the state to set up containment structures during pressure washing so bird waste does not simply get pushed into the Columbia River.

If cormorants continue to nest on the bridge in such high numbers, the state may also have to paint the bridge more often, every 15 years as opposed to every 20.

Under that scenario, Torres said, “We’re not going to have a lot of years where we’re not painting.”

Either way, the Department of Transportation is weighing its options as 2021 approaches. The department anticipates it will need to begin a hazing program to dissuade cormorants from nesting on the bridge. How to remove them is still an open question.

Several years ago, the state hired a company that set up noise cannons on the Interstate 5 Columbia River Bridge in Portland to disturb thousands of starlings that had colonized the bridge and whose accumulated droppings on the bridge, catwalks and roadways posed health and safety hazards.

The Army Corps does not link the movement of double-crested cormorants farther upriver to management actions on East Sand Island. The agency blamed attacks by eagles for the birds’ departures in 2016 and 2017.

Army Corps spokesman Jeff Henon suggested the birds may not have nested in large numbers on the bridge before because of the billowing containment structures that were around in 2014 during painting and maintenance. When the state moved on to other portions of the bridge and the containment structures were no longer necessary, the birds moved in.

But Torres noted that the bulk of that work was not in areas where birds usually nested and, besides, the number of nesting birds on the bridge during the spring and summer climbed steadily between 2012 and 2018.

“The numbers tell the story there,” he said.

The Army Corps did not shoot any adult birds last year, but did destroy eggs. This year, the agency plans to modify the island’s terrain, creating intertidal wetlands and further reducing nesting habitat to keep double-crested cormorants at the lower levels identified in a federal management plan.

But it’s not as though the cormorants’ relocation onto the Astoria Bridge and deeper into the estuary should have been a surprise.

Studies funded by the Army Corps before management of the cormorants even began indicated it was likely some of the birds would move into the estuary if they were hazed off East Sand Island.

Feasting on salmon

Though further investigation is needed, available evidence suggests the cormorants that have been nesting upriver only recently immigrated from somewhere else — their most likely origin being East Sand Island, said James Lawonn, avian predation biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Past research on Caspian terns, also seasonal inhabitants of East Sand Island managed by the Army Corps, indicates birds that nest farther up in the estuary eat even more salmon than those nesting near the river’s mouth, where more types of food are available. It’s possible cormorants that nest upriver could eat three times more young salmon.

Hazed birds flock to bridge

A lone cormorant takes flight under the Astoria Bridge.

Now the state and other partners are looking into the impact of new cormorant colonies in the estuary on the survival of young salmon.

To Lawonn, how many cormorants are using the Astoria Bridge is a major piece of the puzzle.

One evening at the end of March, Lawonn set up a scope near the Port of Astoria’s West Mooring Basin near the bridge.

He wasn’t sure how many cormorants he would even see. It was still early in the season.

Double-crested cormorants appear inclined to return to nesting grounds where they have experienced success, but they also aren’t afraid to quest elsewhere for better options if they are running into trouble.

He wondered if birds that found safe and suitable nesting on the bridge would choose it first over East Sand Island, bypassing habitat where they had been hazed and shot at by humans and harried by eagles for the past several years.

The Army Corps will not begin monitoring East Sand Island for double-crested cormorants and nesting activity until the end of April or beginning of May.

Even as Lawonn trained his scope down the bridge’s length, the dark, snaking forms of cormorants on support structures at the base of the bridge caught the sinking sunlight and gleamed.

Lawonn counted over 650 double-crested cormorants that evening. A few days later, he counted 943.

Study: killing cormorants tripled losses of salmon & steelhead

https://www.animals24-7.org/2019/02/12/study-killing-cormorants-tripled-losses-of-salmon-steelhead/

(Beth Clifton collage)

“This goes down as one of the really significant failures in wildlife management in recent decades.”

PORTLAND, Oregon––Cormorant massacres at East Sand Island,  near the mouth of the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington,  not only did not save any salmon and steelhead from predation in 2015 through 2017,  but may have tripled predation losses,  according to new research by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife avian predation biologist James Lawonn.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers killed 5,576 cormorants and destroyed 6,181 nests in an effort to prevent the birds from eating an estimated 12 million young salmon each year,”  summarized Karina Brown for Courthouse News Service and Willamette Week on February 5,  2019.

Double-crested cormorant.
(Sally Fekety photo)

“Little to no gain”

Lawonn,  however,  told Brown that he expects “expects little to no gain” in salmon and steelhead survival as result of the killing,   ordered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and executed by USDA Wildlife Services

Explained Brown,  “That’s because cormorants are now living farther upriver—still in huge numbers.  And where they live makes a difference.  Cormorants who live closer to the ocean choose from an extensive menu of ocean fish that form huge schools in the Columbia estuary,  such as anchovies,  herring and smelt.  Upriver, they eat a far higher proportion of salmon and other freshwater fish.

“None of the estimated 16,000 birds who fled East Sand Island in 2017,  amid the USDA Wildlife Service gunfire,  “were tagged or radio-collared,  so there is no data to show exactly where they went.  But last year,  a sudden surge in cormorants nested on the Astoria-Megler Bridge,  seven miles upriver from the island,  and at other upriver spots.”

Bridge cormorant colony “will likely double”

Some cormorants had nested at the Astoria-Megler Bridge,  spanning the Columbia River,  since 2004,  “but only in very small numbers,”  Brown specified,  paraphrasing Lawonn.

“Now there are 1,750 breeding pairs on the bridge,”  Brown wrote,  “and based on available habitat,  the colony will likely double.”

Altogether,  the Columbia River estuary cormorant population has recovered to about 10,000 nesting pairs,  “a number comparable to the original average of 12,000 pairs on East Sand Island before the Corps of Engineers project,”  Brown assessed.  “Other spots upstream have become new homes for 750 breeding pairs.”

Bob Sallinger.  (Facebook photo)

Feds knew killing cormorants would not help

That the cormorant massacres would do little or nothing to conserve salmon and steelhead was no surprise to Audubon Society of Portland conservation director Bob Sallinger.

The outcome should also have been no surprise to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies involved in the killing,  Sallinger contended in an unsuccessful 2015 lawsuit,  based on a suppressed and ignored study by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Steve Haeseker.

(See Feds hid data showing that killing cormorants will not help salmon & steelhead.)

Cormorant catching a fish.
(Beth Clifton photo)

“One of the worst things I’ve seen”

“We think this goes down as one of the really significant failures in wildlife management in recent decades,”  Sallinger told Brown.  “It’s without question one of the worst things I’ve seen in my 25 years of wildlife advocacy.”

“This was never about protecting salmon,” emphasized Sallinger.  “This was always about scapegoating birds to avoid the real challenges that the Corps of Engineers needs to face up to. And the result has been a stunning failure,  whether you care about birds or fish.”

Sallinger and many other conservationists have long blamed salmon and steelhead declines in the Columbia River estuary on the many upstream dams blocking the Columbia,  the Willamette,  and other spawning rivers.

(Beth Clifton photo)

Dams & hot water

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has refused to do what’s necessary to modify those dams to protect salmon,”  Sallinger has often said,  “and that is why salmon are continuing to decline. Killing wildlife is not going to change that situation.”

Several reports indicate that global warming is also a major and growing factor.  Effects of elevated water temperature have been found by at least one recent study to be contributing to the premature deaths as many as half of the adult sockeye salmon returning to the Columbia River and tributaries to spawn.

(Beth Clifton photo)

Feds blame eagles

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,  meanwhile,  denied to Brown that shooting thousands of cormorants and smashing their nests had anything to do with their 2017 exodus from East Sand Island.

Instead,  wrote Brown,  “The Corps blames eagles for the birds’ mass abandonment of the island.”

“The management plan has been very successful in reducing the amount of salmon eaten by birds on East Sand Island,”  contended U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist Kris Lightner.  “We just don’t know about the estuary as a whole.”

(Beth Clifton collage)

“Pure scapegoating”

Responded Oregon State University wildlife ecology professor Dan Roby,  who was hired by the Corps of Engineers to study the potential effects of rousting cormorants from East Sand Island,  but whose advice was ignored,  “If there is a place in the Columbia River estuary where it would be best for cormorants to nest – and by best,  I mean their effect on salmon and steelhead survival – it would be East Sand Island.”

Brown published her exposés of the failure of the cormorant killing to help salmon and steelhead on the same day that ANIMALS 24-7published Why killing predators won’t bring back the salmon,  examining and exposing schemes pursued by a variety of state and federal agencies to try to recover salmon and steelhead by killing gulls and California sea lions.

Beth & Merritt Clifton

All of this,  said Sallinger,  “is a continuation of a very unfortunate pattern of killing wildlife to protect other wildlife––pure scapegoating.”

Cormorant Hunt Is the Single Worst Wild Game Management Decision in Canadian History

 from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Barry Kent MacKay, BornFreeUSA.org
December 2018

This move is a response to lobbying by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), who must now abandon any pretense that hunting isn’t cruel and wasteful.

Cormorants
Pair of cormorants in flight. Drawing by Barry Kent MacKay / Born Free USA. See more of Barry’s art – Art by Barry Kent MacKay.

To oppose this monstrous legislation, GO HERE TO LEAVE A COMMENT.
Deadline for comment is January 3, 2019.

Ontario’s newly elected premier, Doug Ford, in many ways as Trumpian as the Donald himself, has just proposed what is, I believe, the worst single wild game management decision in Canadian history. Did I say “game”? “Gamey” barely describes the essentially inedible double-crested cormorant, a species that was twice nearly wiped out in Ontario, and is not “game” by any traditional definition. And yet, so it is to be called, except that for the first time since game laws came into being, it will be legal to leave the carcasses of birds who have been shot as “game” to rot. The bag limit is 50 per day with no limit to possession. The season will be from March 15, the start of the cornmorant nesting season, to December 31, when all but a few stragglers have migrated south.

Ford’s government is a majority (which is like having control of both the House and Senate in U.S. politics), so there can be no effective opposition, and Ford’s term is four years. I doubt he’ll be re-elected, but it will take further years to undo damage he’s doing in this and other similarly Draconian legislation. I hate to think what’s to come.

This move is a response to lobbying by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), who must now abandon any pretense that hunting isn’t cruel and wasteful. “Hunting” has to be redefined, literally, with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act being amended so hunters can allow the meat of “game” to spoil. The birds are easily shot and highly vulnerable. There is no “fair chase” or “sustainable use” involved.

Cormorant chicks
Born unfeathered, so ugly only a mother can love them, which she, and dad, do, protecting them from the elements. Drawing by Barry Kent MacKay / Born Free USA. See more of Barry’s art – Art by Barry Kent MacKay.

Cormorants nest in colonies of mixed bird species. Both parents need to tend the young, born naked. Would it not be deemed cruel to put a baby bird in the oven, turn the temperature to 90 or more Fahrenheit and leave it to die? That degree of abuse will be the fate of who knows how many hundreds, or thousands of baby cormorants, whose parents tend them with such great care – feeding them, shading them, warming them, and even bringing them water to cool them in the heat of the day.
Ford (brother to Toronto’s late crack-smoking Mayor Rob Ford) is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and probably bought into the much-debunked belief that fish consumed by cormorants would otherwise be available to commercial and sport fishing interests. A search of peer-reviewed scientific literature by ornithologists showed otherwise, but facts don’t matter to authoritarian right-wingers. Natural predation is usually “compensatory,” taking individual prey that would otherwise not survive, and only under exceptional circumstances is predation “additive,” meaning that it is above the number needed for the prey species numbers to continue. If this were not the case, all predators would wipe out their prey and go extinct. As The Department of Natural Resources for Minnesota puts it, compensatory mortality “…is common in all animal populations and this type of mortality [by cormorants] does not decrease fish populations.”

This is all too technical for Ford and OFAH, but even if they did understand such basic ecology, I doubt they would care. Numbers of hunters are in freefall decline, if “hunting” is defined in terms of science-based regulation, “fair chase” and utilization. The term has shifted to simply mean killing. The fact that cormorant guano, rich in nutriments, can kill off trees, plus the absurd belief that fish eaten by cormorants would otherwise wind up on hooks, in nets and creels, or glued to wooden plaques hung on walls, is all the excuses needed. With slob hunters now legitimized by Mr. Ford, watch, too, for killing of loons and other birds that dare to eat fish and are easily mistaken for cormorants.

To oppose this monstrous legislation, GO HERE TO LEAVE A COMMENT.
Deadline for comment is January 3, 2019.

Why So Many People Hate Cormorants 

https://www.animalalliance.ca/news/

The late American poet-philosopher Maya Angelou said: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”

I think it’s a safe bet that the quote, and Angelou, are both unknown to newly elected Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who once said: “If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.” His ignorance in that case was in reference to possibly Canada’s most famous, easily recognized living writer (and a resident of the city whose mayor was Ford’s own brother and who Ford, as a councillor, was helping to govern), Margaret Atwood. She had corrected Ford’s absurd assertion that his ward contained more libraries than Tim Horton’s coffee shops.

That level of ignorance is no virtue. If I may quote Angelou once more: “ <https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1567235> The root cause of all the problems we have in the world today is ignorance of course. But most, polarization.”

To the “populist” politicians and their “base”, their core supporters, it is not what is factual, but what you feel, what your intuition, your “gut”, tells you, that counts.

And in answering the question posed at by the title of this blog, it is important to first understand that hate, ignorance and polarization are not only handmaidens (all puns intended) of each other but exactly what Ford’s plan to wipe out Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario, encompasses. He indeed polarizes.

The issue is that, as is the inclination of authoritarian political leaders, without consultation Ford has proposed a series of Draconian legislative steps that will greatly damage Ontario’s environment, and wildlife, in various ways.

This includes a plan to re-define the Double-crested Cormorant as a “game” bird, with an open season that lasts from March 15 to December 31, and no limit on “possession”.

For the first time in Canadian game management, hunted birds won’t have to be utilized as food. Any hunter with the correct small game hunting license could legally kill well over 13,000 birds per year. At that rate it would take only about 18 hunters to eliminate all the cormorants in the Great Lakes basin in a single year, and with a very few more able to eliminate the species from the entire province. No one hunter could kill that many, but then, while hunters’ numbers are in precipitous decline, there are still a many times more than enough to again eliminate the species in most of Ontario.

In an excellent commentary published by The Toronto Star on December 10, 2018 (see: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/12/10/why-are-cormorants-in-progressive-conservatives-crosshairs.html) political commentator par excellence, Thomas Walkom, asks a similar, related question, why are cormorants in the crosshairs of Doug Ford’s party, the provincial Progressive Conservatives?

Having a majority in provincial parliament, Ford and his party has free rein to enact regressive laws. The party is neither conservative nor progressive, but they can do what they want, so why do they want to kill cormorants and cause horrific suffering and deaths to their orphaned nestlings? What game species is deliberately and legally shot when it has dependent young? Why hate cormorants?

While the answer to the uninformed minds of Ford’s base would simply be “because cormorants eat all the fish”, meaning fish otherwise available to both sport and commercial anglers, as is well known by those who actually study cormorant diets, it is wrong. I think that inaccurate belief is only part of the answer.

But it is not quite what Walkom asked. We’ll get to that.

There is often excessive antipathy toward predators, seen by the environmentally illiterate as competitors for what we humans need or want. Among fish-eating species, seals, sealions, porpoises and other cetaceans, sharks and other mammals have been scapegoated – blamed for declines in commercially “harvested” fish stocks. Among native Ontario birds, Ospreys, pelicans, herons, Belted Kingfishers, loons, grebes, mergansers and other species have, at various times, been targeted for organized killing. They are all now protected, to varying degrees, in response to increasing understanding of basic ecological principles.

But none evoke as much sheer detestation as cormorants; they really are hated, to an irrational, visceral degree, by a significant minority of people. It is not all that unusual, especially for people who lived prior to about the mid-twentieth century, before there was much knowledge about wildlife population dynamics and predator-prey interrelationships and the importance of apex predators to biodiversity, to want to kill all predators. And a few species, like wolves, can still too often arouse such levels of irrational fear and hatred.

It has been suggested that some of the excoriation directed against cormorants reflects deep-seated bigotry of the worse kind. The theory points to the fact that cormorants were once called nigger goose in some quarters (you can imagine which) and to a situation in Australia, where there are two small cormorant species very similar in size, shape and diets, but one is black and white while the other is all black, the latter being far less tolerated than the former. Other black birds, such as crows, grackles and starlings, also seem to attract disproportionate dislike, where they dare to be common. “Black” is, as people in support of civil rights have been known to observe, seen as negative, the colour that depends on an absence of light, thus the antheses to what light represents, as symbolized in the word, “enlightenment”, or in religious texts associating light with grace, goodness and God. White pelicans, which eat more fish per bird than any cormorant (because they are bigger; they need more) are, like swans and egrets, more fondly considered.

Maybe, but that didn’t stop assailants from killing both cormorants and American White Pelicans at a mutual nesting colony Manitoba, stomping on eggs and babies, and has not prevented demonization of Mute Swans and Snow Geese, both white.

The “blackness” theory is all too speculative for me and I think the answer is simpler, although not entirely simplistic.

To help understand the hatred, we need a little history.

The species was twice reduced to virtually endangered status in Ontario. The first reduction happened, I theorize, hot on the heels of colonization by European “settlers”. They carried with them guns and a combination of fear and ignorance about the wilderness, which was to be tamed and conquered. Because of their devotion to their nesting duties cormorants are extremely vulnerable to persecution. It’s inconceivable that they would be found from Alaska to Florida and the West Indies, and from Newfoundland to California and Mexico, and yet be absent from the largest source of fresh water fish in the world, quite near the centre of that vast range. As mostly European “pioneers” filled the land, cormorants, and a vast number of other wildlife species, gave way. Cormorants were easily destroyed.

Following the end of the War of 1812, commercial fisheries began in the Great Lakes and no cormorant nest site would have been safe from persecution, happening before qualified naturalists arrived on the scene to record the presence of nesting birds. This led to the oddly absurd belief that cormorants therefore were never present!

But they were, and there are indications of them nesting in Sandusky Bay, Ohio, which is part of Lake Erie, late into the 19th Century. By the time qualified observations were being made, direct evidence of Great Lakes nesting was scarce to absent, east of Lake of the Woods, until some were found in Lake Superior in 1913, where locals said they had nested all along.

The “official” version is that from there they spread eastward, reaching Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River by 1945.

On its website Environment Canada says, “Historically, it is thought that the Double-crested Cormorant did not nest in the Great Lakes. Archaeological excavations in aboriginal settlements have not shown any evidence of the bird. Although cormorants have nested in Lake of the Woods (in northwestern Ontario) for hundreds of years, the first suspected nesting on the Great Lakes did not occur until 1913, at the far western end of Lake Superior. From there colonies spread eastward to Lake Nipigon in the 1920s, to Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in the early 1930s and finally to Lakes Ontario and Erie in the late 1930s (Figure 1: Cormorants first nested on Lake Superior in 1913, and spread eastward to Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River By 1945.”

Environment Canada’s website ignores any evidence contrary to what it says and misstates that there is no archeological evidence of the bird in the Great Lakes prior to then. That is simply not true (their bones have, in fact, been found in kitchen middens – remains of animals eaten by native peoples centuries ago, albeit not often; they are not good to eat) but it promotes the idea that the bird did not historically occur in the Great Lakes, and thus is an intruder, an “invader”, an immigrant, as it were.

Then Minister of what was at the time called the Ministry of Natural Resources, David Ramsay, said, in 2004, that the cormorants were not native, but an “invasive” species. Again, that is not remotely true. That ridiculous claim has since been dropped by the provincial government although it seems still to be believed by some who so thoughtlessly hate cormorants.

Following the end of WWII, DDT was introduced into the environment with disastrous results, as the pesticide bioaccumulated up the food chain, to render several fish-eating bird species unable to produce viable eggs. The same Environment Canada website is probably far more accurate in saying, “The cormorant disappeared as a nesting bird on Lakes Michigan and Superior and only about ten pairs remained on Lake Ontario.”

However, by 1973, recovery was well underway, again.

And there is what is a significant part of the real origin of fear and hatred directed against Double-crested Cormorants. The ecological niche that cormorants occupy was already there, and in fact had increased. Cormorants tend to eat coarse fish species that are abundant, and several such species had newly entered the ecosystem, including the herring-like Alewife, a truly invasive species.

I saw my first cormorants, as a kid, in 1957, and the beach I was standing near, at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Lake Ontario, was covered in rotting piles of dead Alewives. Alewives’ food consists of plankton and other tiny organisms at or near the base of food chains upon which larger fish depend, along with small fish and other organisms of various other species, including the young of species of interest to anglers.

Alewives spawn at the same time cormorants are feeding, and spawning Alewives are an ideal size for cormorants. As cormorant numbers went up, on average the number of dead and rotting Alewives on the beaches went down, and the kinds of fish that anglers pursue had more food, to their benefit. The return of the cormorants was good news indicating environmental healing.

No one now alive was around when cormorants were here prior to nearly vanishing at the end of the 19th century, and few if anyone alive would recall their growing numbers prior to World War II. Thus, the perception is that the “normal” number of cormorants is what is remembered from our youth, which in many lakes and rivers, would be none at all.

Thus the “norm” to such folks is not what a healthy ecosystem looks like, cormorants, fish and all, but what it looks like when a key species, the cormorant, is endangered or absent. Add to that, a lack of understanding that in naturally evolved predator-prey relationships, prey population size determines how many predators there are, not the other way around.

Currently most water that cormorants could occupy lacks them; most fish cormorants could eat don’t get eaten by them; most islands and headlands where cormorants might nest, they don’t.

However, when and where they do occur, they may do so in large numbers. They are a species that is very “social” and that tends to occur in large concentrations. Large numbers of wildlife is not a sight anyone alive today is used to seeing. We might read about the vast numbers of wildlife that greeted the first European settlers, but we have no memory of them. The vast seabird breeding colonies, the schools of cod so thick they impeded the progress of ships, the massive herds of bison whose sheer weight shook the earth, the unimaginably enormous numbers of Passenger Pigeons eclipsing the sun, the wide flocks of migrating Eskimo Curlews and other shorebirds, the expanses of caribou across the tundra, numbers of deer, bear, moose, waterfowl…and cormorants…gone now, many, including some that were once the most numerous, are extinct, extirpated or endangered.

But some do recover. When a species does occur, even locally, in large numbers, it tends to be perceived as an anomaly, an abomination, an affront to our own self-important domination of an environment we still want to control, to dominate. The number of people in the Greater Toronto Area is more than the number of Double-crested Cormorants continent-wide, and yet Premier Ford thinks there are “too many”.

There is also the “squeamish factor”. With our cellophane-wrapped meat and air-conditioned or gas-heated homes and the support of unprecedented technologies upon which we have rapidly become dependent, we are isolated from the true nature, the texture, the essence of life and life processes. The concentrations of excrement that are so normal and typical a part of any concentration of any species, our own included when modern plumbing is not to be had, offends us. The un-sanitized world is just too “dirty”, it can smell unpleasant; the reality of life and death is disagreeable and disturbing, dangers lurk…an unwelcome intrusion into our technologically barricaded womb of equanimity.

But while I think all of that goes into explaining hatred of cormorants, where it exists, it does not answer Thomas Walkom’s more probing question: why are cormorants in the crosshairs of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives?

The key to the answer is, I believe, embedded in the question. Crosshairs is a reference to shooters, and while we don’t have the “gun culture” to be found in the U.S., it is not entirely missing. Whereas our southern neighbours have the National Rifle Association, the NRA, a major political force down there, in Ontario we have the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, OFAH. Both organizations share a problem and do so with the respective governments of the jurisdictions in which they operate and with various business interests.

That problem is a precipitous decline in hunters. Hunters pay license fees that go into government coffers, and membership fees and donations that fund the NRA and OFAH and payments to outfitters, and equipment suppliers such as gun, ammo and hunting gear producers and retailers. It’s a symbiotic relationship of intertwined and interdependent interests.

I can’t think that the more knowledgeable of OFAH’s advisors really are as ignorant of ecology as their anti-cormorant indicates, but they know they depend on the hook and bullet fraternity for

The Unintended Consequences that Could Stem from Ford’s Ignorance of Cormorants

https://www.bornfreeusa.org/category/blog> , Canada
<https://www.bornfreeusa.org/category/canada> on December 13, 2018

My last two blogs have been about the horrific plan by Ontario’s newly
elected Progressive Conservative government (although it is anything but
either progressive or conservative) to wipe out as much as possible, and
certainly most, of the province’s population of double-crested cormorants
(read these blogs here
<https://www.bornfreeusa.org/2018/11/26/cormorant-hunt-is-the-single-worst-w
ild-game-management-decision-in-canadian-history/> and here
<https://www.bornfreeusa.org/2018/12/05/these-hunters-must-stop-pretending/>
) by allowing holders of small-game licenses to kill up to 50 of the birds
per day from March 15 to December 31. As a colonial nesting species, the
cormorant is extremely vulnerable to extirpation – it has happened before –
and the whole idea is predicated on concerns, which have been repudiated by
scientists many times over, that the birds are damaging to the environment.

The whole concept of this hunt is wrong on many different levels and for
many different reasons, including the hideous cruelty of leaving an
unpredictable number (certainly in the thousands) of orphaned baby birds to
die of dehydration and other forms of exposure. This is an exceptionally
ill-conceived notion by a premier, Doug Ford, with an authoritarian mindset,
who has been called “thuggish” and “bullying” by pundits, but like his
apparent role model, U.S. President Donald Trump, he does not seem to care.
Authoritarian mindsets tend to be blind to unintended consequences.

I get that the less informed among those who hunt and fish tend to see
predatory animals as their competitors who need to be killed. They neither
know or care about the importance of apex predators within healthily
functioning environments. And, I realize that cormorants, like wolves,
sharks, and other predators, can evoke irrational levels of fear, hatred,
and loathing. If such attitudes did not lead to cruelty and destruction, I’d
pity the people who have them, cut off, as they are, from the joy that comes
from knowledge of the intricate interactions of the web of life within the
ecological whole; a web that humans seem so eager to destroy.

As my friend, Buzz Boles, points out:

“In 1934, J. A. Dymond, Acting Director, Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology and
Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, University of Toronto,
reacting to loon hunting he observed on Ontario’s Rideau waterway pointed
out that Sir Arthur Thomson, an eminent British biologist of the day,
related the following story that is indicative of killing cormorants and
destabilizing a lake and river system.

“‘In Australia, on the Murray River swamps, several species of cormorant use
to swarm in the thousands, but ruthless massacres, based on the supposition
that the cormorants were spoiling the fishing, reduced them to hundreds.
But, the fishing did not improve; it got worse. It was then discovered that
the cormorants fed largely on crabs, eels, and some other creatures that
devour the spawn and fry of desirable fishes. Thus, the ignorant massacre of
the cormorants made for the impoverishment, not the improvement of the
fishing. The obvious moral is that man should get at the facts of the web of
life before, not after, he has recourse to drastic measures of
interference.'”

Sadly, we never seem to learn.

Double-crested Cormorant Slaughter

double-crested cormorant

For more than 10 years, Animal Alliance of Canada, Born Free FoundationZoocheckEarthroots and other groups have been working to gain protections for cormorants. These unfortunate birds have been scapegoated for everything from water pollution to environmental destruction to the decimation of fish populations. All of these claims are false.

Double-crested cormorants are native Ontario birds that have repopulated parts of their former range and they fulfill a valuable ecological role. Not only do they benefit biodiversity, they help generate healthy fish populations and should be considered a integral component of Ontario’s natural heritage.

Now, Premier Ford and his government are proposing one of the most regressive wildlife “management” decisions in Canadian history.  The proposed changes are rooted in an irrational hatred for cormorants that will fuel their persecution and drive them back to the brink of extinction, or worse, in the province.

A recent Environmental Registry of Ontario posting (https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4124) announced that the Government is seeking input on a proposed change to the province’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that will:

  • designate double-crested cormorants as a “game” bird species,
  • create a province wide annual hunting season from March 15 until December 31,
  • allow anyone holding a valid Ontario Outdoors Card and small game hunting license to kill up to 50 cormorants per day (1,500 per month or more than 14,000 per season) and,
  • allow the carcasses to spoil (i.e., rot).

The Government’s proposal would:

  • cause unimaginable cruelty by allowing the wholesale, uncontrolled, impossible to monitor, slaughter of cormorants across the province,
  • devastate and possibly eradicate a recovered native wildlife species,
  • result in disturbance, destruction and death of numerous federally protected non-target bird species such as Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and White Pelicans,
  • irreparably damage natural ecosystems,
  • encourage the worst form of “slob hunting,” and
  • endanger the public by allowing hunters to discharge firearms throughout the spring, summer and fall season when lakes and natural areas are populated by cottagers and tourists.

Why?

The Government of Ontario says it is responding to concerns about too many cormorants, depleted fish stocks and environmental damage. But those concerns are largely just anecdotes, complaints from a small, radical segment of the fishing community, and unsubstantiated claims that were debunked long ago. There is no substantive body of evidence proving that cormorants are depleting fish stocks or causing any ecological problems whatsoever.

The reality is that cormorants are a natural part of Ontario’s rich biodiversity and an ecologically beneficial species, being major predators of invasive fish species, like round gobies and alewives, attracting other waterbirds to their nesting sites, and serving other important functions in the ecosystems they inhabit.

A Recovered Species

Persecution by humans and pesticide poisoning all but wiped out cormorants in Ontario on two previous occasions but, in recent years, they have returned and populated those habitats that will support them.  They are a recovery success.

Far from being overabundant, cormorant numbers are relatively modest, have stabilized and are dropping in some areas. The entire North American double-crested cormorant population is estimated to be less than the population of Toronto, with about 250,000 in the entire Great Lakes Basin and considerably less residing in Ontario.

At Risk of Extinction

Because they are conspicuous birds that congregate in colonies to nest on exposed islands and peninsulas (only about 3% of potential island sites in the Great Lakes are suitable), they are particularly vulnerable, being easily targeted and killed. Small congregations could be wiped out in just a few minutes or an hour, while larger colonies could be destroyed in just a few days or a week.  Years of effort and thousands of dollars to recover the species will have been for nothing.

Radical cormorant-haters have already attacked colonies under cover of night, destroying nests, stomping on chicks and killing adults. Once the proposed changes to the law come into effect, people will be given free rein to destroy as many cormorants as they want. It wouldn’t take many people very long to wipe out most cormorants in the province, leaving just a tiny remnant of their population in a few protected areas. And driving them back to near extinction or even worse in Ontario is a real possibility.

How You Can Help:  Oppose This Plan!

  1. Comment on the Environmental Registry posting.  There’s a 45 day comment period which ends on January 3rd , so please visit https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4124 to submit your comments.  It’s critically important that the posting receive as many comments as possible.  You can say as much or as little as you want (even a single sentence will be helpful).  If you want to send comments by mail, see address below this alert.
  2. Call or Write to the Premier. Let Premier Doug Ford know what you think of the plan to allow the mass killing of cormorants in Ontario.   See Premier’s contact information below this alert.  A quick phone call or a brief email are the most effective.
  3. Contact your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). It doesn’t matter what party they represent or what their views (pro or con) are.  Let them know what an unnecessary, outdated, environmentally damaging, wasteful and cruel idea this is.   Ask what they’re going to do about it.  Find your Ontario MPP using your postal code at elections.on.ca
  4. Spread the word.  Tell everyone you know who loves birds, wildlife and nature about what’s going on.  Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or, if you can, an Opinion Editorial or article.  Make sure you mention your MPP and what they are doing, or not doing, to protect cormorants and other wildlife in your letter.
  5. Donate.  Opposing this Draconian, destructive and completely unnecessary plan to allow the unfettered killing of cormorants won’t be easy or cheap.  That’s why we’re asking you to make a contribution of whatever you can afford in support of our efforts to protect cormorants.  Donate to Zoocheck at www.zoocheck.com/donate/ or donate to Animal Alliance of Canada at www.animalalliance.ca/donate

Environmental Registry of Ontario

Proposal to establish a hunting season for
double-crested cormorants in Ontario

*45 day comment period ends January 3, 2019*

Submit comments by mail to:

Public Input Coordinator
Species Conservation Policy Branch
300 Water Street, Floor 5N
Peterborough, ON   K9J 8M5

Submit comments online:    https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4124


Premier Doug Ford Contact Information

Website Feedback Form:  https://correspondence.premier.gov.on.ca/en/feedback/default.aspx

Mailing Address:  Premier of Ontario, Legislative Building, Queen’s Park, Toronto, ON, M7A 1A1

Phone:  416-325-1941  /    TTY/Teletypewriter: (for hearing impaired):  1-800-387-5559


Find Your Own Member of Provincial Parliament by using your postal code

www.elections.on.ca

(If you are not computer accessible, please call Animal Alliance at 416-462-9541.)


Additional Information

Animal Alliance of Canada (416) 462-9541

Zoocheck (416) 285-1744

Fighting for cormorants:  Talking and Letter Writing Points

  1. The Ontario government’s proposal will allow individuals with a small game license to kill up to 50 cormorants per day. That works out to approximately 1,500 cormorants per month or up to 14,250 cormorants for the entire proposed annual hunting season.
  2. The presence of cormorants benefits other colonial water birds, such as federally protected herons, egrets and pelicans, all of which are stable or growing populations where cormorants are found.
  3. The mass killing of cormorants will not be beneficial. In fact, the process of killing them will force other bird species to vacate the colony sites they share.
  4. There is no way to kill cormorants humanely. Even controlled, organized culls in other regions have resulted in large numbers of injured and crippled birds being left to die of their wounds or starve to death, including nestlings.
  5. Cormorants are beneficial because their diet consists of very large numbers of primarily invasive fish, such as alewives and round gobies, as well as other non-commercial, non-forage species.  It is the commercial fisheries in Lake Erie and other lakes that are depleting fish populations, not cormorants.
  6. The mass killing of cormorants will damage the environment and disrupt natural ecosystem processes.
  7. The return of cormorants, a native wildlife species, to the Great Lakes Basin is part of a natural process and should be celebrated
  8. Cormorants are not overabundant in the Great Lakes. In fact, their numbers are modest, now stabilized and are dropping in many areas.
  9. Changes in the composition of vegetation in and around bird colonies are a sign of  vibrant, healthy, dynamic natural ecosystem processes.
  10. The number of trees that die in colonial waterbird colonies across the province is minuscule and wouldn’t even equal the number of trees in a single modestly-sized woodlot or taken in one day by Ontario’s logging industry.
  11. Only a small number of islands (less than 3%) and peninsula sites are available for cormorants and other colonial waterbirds to nest on.
  12. The mass killing being proposed by the Ontario government is a political response to anecdotes, unsubstantiated claims and complaints by a small group of radical fishermen, supported by special interest groups. There is no substantive body of scientific evidence supporting their position.
  13. Instead of making cormorants a scapegoat for environmental problems they have nothing to do with, attention should be given to addressing the issues that actually do affect fish populations and aquatic environments, such as climate change, pollution, shoreline and habitat destruction, over-fishing and a broad range of other issues.
  14. The proposed designation of cormorants as game animals, along with a non-utilization exemption that allows the carcasses to rot should be an affront to every hunter who believes in sportsmanship, fair chase and ethics.
  15. There are very real safety issues where hunters are permitted to discharge firearms throughout the spring, summer and fall season when lakes and natural areas are populated by cottagers and tourists.
  16. The proposed “hunt” will cause unimaginable cruelty by allowing the wholesale, uncontrolled slaughter of cormorants across the province, wounding adults (video of cormorant with a broken bill:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0pBs6XjtSg&list=PL1asTRKubtRuAy7LWUpMFubz97ydJTEhM&index=3) and orphaning thousands of baby birds who will die from starvation and exposure to the elements.

READ MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF OUR FIGHT TO PROTECT THIS NATIVE BIRD

Another rude awakening for cormorants

http://www.dailyastorian.com/Local_News/20170403/another-rude-awakening-for-cormorants?utm_source=Daily+Astorian+Updates&utm_campaign=e4006b0b68-TEMPLATE_Daily_Astorian_Newsletter_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e787c9ed3c-e4006b0b68-109860249&ct=t(TEMPLATE_Daily_Astorian_Newsletter_Updat6_21_2016)

By Katie Frankowicz

For The Daily Astorian

Published on April 3, 2017 9:03AM

The state will resume hazing cormorants on the Oregon Coast to protect salmon.

DAILY ASTORIAN/FILE PHOTO

The state will resume hazing cormorants on the Oregon Coast to protect salmon.

Buy this photo

Cormorants facing possible death by shotgun blast at their colony near the mouth of the Columbia River don’t seem to have started house-hunting in less dangerous neighborhoods farther down the coast.

But as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife once again prepares to coordinate nonlethal hazing projects at various Oregon estuaries this spring, biologists will watch for changes in cormorant colonies south of the river.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the massive double-crested cormorant colony on East Sand Island, began a culling program in 2015 in an effort to manage the growing colony and reduce the number of young salmon the birds were estimated to consume annually. That year, the Army Corps’ contractors killed a total of 2,346 adult birds and oiled eggs — a process that prevents the eggs from hatching — in 5,089 nests. In 2016, the Corps reported a total of 2,982 adult birds killed.
Cormorant populations
So far there haven’t been any changes in populations elsewhere that state biologists can directly attribute to management activities on East Sand Island. Drawing a straight line from the Columbia River estuary to changing cormorant populations farther down the coast is difficult to do anyway.

“If we do see increases at the Oregon Coast colonies, we would be curious to know how this might be related to activities on the Columbia River,” said state biologist and avian predation coordinator James Lawonn. But, he added, “cormorant colonies naturally fluctuate quite a bit.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife already monitors double-crested cormorant populations on the coast extensively. In addition to regular nonlethal hazing activities, when some monitoring can occur, there are regular aerial surveys and estuary surveys. On these excursions, biologists focus on a variety of bird species but also take note of the double-crested cormorants.

The state has not increased any of its monitoring activities in response to the Corps’ lethal management plan on East Sand Island. This is mostly because the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s own monitoring efforts along the coast and in the estuaries are already “pretty robust,” Lawonn said. “We feel that we’ve got our bases covered.”
Nonlethal hazing
Oregon plans to begin its nonlethal hazing activities in May, focusing on the Nehalem, Nestucca and Coquille river estuaries and Tillamook and Alsea bays before moving up to the Lower Columbia River area.

The cormorants are native to Oregon and are particularly prevalent on the state’s estuaries from April through October, according to a news release from the Department of Fish and Wildlife — overlapping with when wild-spawned and hatchery salmon juveniles are migrating from their origin streams to the ocean.

The hazing activities by the state are an effort to protect, in particular, spring migrants that are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Though some small pyrotechnics might be used, most often the state’s hazing techniques take the form of people driving around in boats, chasing cormorants away from areas where vulnerable — and valuable — juvenile salmon are concentrated.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has coordinated this cormorant hazing project for the last eight years, and such nonlethal hazing in one form or another has occurred at some Oregon estuaries since the late 1980s.

Kill Bill 205, not cormorants

Draconian bill will send Ontario’s cormorants back
to the brink of extinction

On May 18, 2016, Ontario <http://tracking.etapestry.com/t/32187921/1197279304/71603365/0/54980/> MPP Robert Bailey introduced Private Member’s Bill 205, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Act (Double-crested Cormorants) 2016 that, if passed, would allow the uncontrolled hunting and trapping of Double-crested cormorants by anyone for any reason.

Bill 205 ignores science and instead is based on myths and misunderstanding. It’s an attempt to slip into existing legislation what many may incorrectly see as an innocuous amendment, but one that will set the stage for the wholesale slaughter of cormorants across the province and drive them back to near extinction.

Bill 205 passed quickly through second reading and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Legislative Assembly. The Bill must be stopped in its tracks and should not be called for consideration and debate by the Committee.

Remarkably, while the regressive Bill 205 sits active in the process, a US federal court just ended cormorant culling in 24 eastern US states saying that there was little scientific basis for it.

Briefing notes on this bill can be read by <http://tracking.etapestry.com/t/32187921/1197279304/71603368/0/54980/> clicking here.

For more than 10 years, Animal Alliance of Canada, Born Free Foundation, Zoocheck, Earthroots and other groups have been working to gain protections for cormorants. These unfortunate birds have been scapegoated for everything from water pollution to environmental destruction to the decimation of fish populations.

All of these claims are false.

Double-crested cormorants are native Ontario birds that have repopulated parts of their former range and they fulfill a valuable ecological role. Not only do they benefit biodiversity, they help generate healthy fish populations and should be considered a integral component of Ontario’s natural heritage.

But irrational hatred of cormorants runs deep and special interest, anti-cormorant groups would like nothing more than to see Bill 205 passed. They must not succeed. It may be cormorants on the proverbial chopping block now, but if it can happen to one, who might be next?

Take Action Today to Stop Bill 205!

Contact your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and tell them you strongly oppose Bill 205. Urge them to do everything in their power to make sure the Bill is stopped dead in its tracks.

Painting Courtesy Barry Kent McKay

Painting Courtesy Barry Kent McKay