Hazed birds flock to Astoria (OR) bridge

http://www.dailyastorian.com/Local_News/20160624/hazed-birds-flock

By Katie Frankowicz

For The Daily Astorian

Published on June 24, 2016 7:56AM

Cormorants rest below the Astoria Bridge Wednesday.

Danny Miller/The Daily Astorian

A lone cormorant takes flight under the Astoria Bridge.

The Astoria Bridge is experiencing a housing boom.

As many as 11,000 cormorants are roosting there at night, and observers have counted around 600 nests there within the past few weeks. Last year, there were only 400.

This surge in the bridge’s cormorant population comes a month after roughly 17,000 double-crested cormorants, for reasons still unknown, abandoned their nests and eggs on East Sand Island, located at the mouth of the Columbia River near Chinook, Washington.

“The bottom line is we believe most of the cormorants have remained in the estuary and the increased number of nests on the Astoria-Megler Bridge seems to indicate that,” said Diana Fredlund, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages East Sand Island and the massive cormorant colony that used to nest there seasonally.

“But our observers are in the process of counting all the birds and nests in the estuary right now,” Fredlund added. “They can’t say definitively that they are from East Sand Island, but it seems likely.”

The bridge has hosted the fish-eating birds before, acting as a seasonal home to around 75 to 100 nesting pairs of cormorants on average, according to studies by the Corps — nothing compared to what has been observed in the past few weeks. It isn’t clear what the increase means for the bridge itself, or if the nests will remain in use after the regular nesting season has passed.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is continuing with regularly scheduled hazing of double-crested cormorants along Oregon estuaries to protect smolt.

The bulk of this work wrapped up in May, but Clatsop County’s Fisheries Project holds a permit from the state that allows them to also harass the birds in July, when the department typically releases fish from net pens in Youngs Bay and Tongue Point. With lower numbers of brood stock this year, however, Natural Resources Manager Steve Meschke doubts they’ll need to go out in their boats and chase cormorants around the bay — Clatsop County’s usual method.
Different methods, same birds
Oregon’s state-run hazing is very different from the methods undertaken by the Corps on East Sand Island.

Last year, the Corps obtained a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allowed them to begin targeting and killing double-crested cormorants, planning to ultimately reduce approximately 14,900 breeding pairs of double-crested cormorants to 5,900 breeding pairs by 2018. The agency says the birds eat millions of protected salmon and steelhead traveling through the Columbia River estuary and threaten the survival of those runs, statements and reasoning the Portland Audubon Society and others have since challenged.

As of May 16, the Corps’ contractors killed 2,394 double-crested cormorants and oiled 1,092 nests to prevent eggs from hatching before all the birds disappeared and culling activities were halted early.

The goal for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hazing is similar, but different. Instead of using guns, the state and the other groups it contracts with or issues permits to for hazing work are more likely to chase the birds around in boats or use laser pointers to wake them up and move them away from areas where young fish are going to be passing through.

Their goal with this nonlethal hazing is to increase the survival of smolts, particularly the Oregon Coast coho population that is federally listed as threatened, by changing the cormorants’ behavior for a short period of time. The hazing occurs when the fish are passing through estuaries along the southern and mid-coast — Tillamook, Nehalem, Nestucca, Elsie and Coquille — and in the Lower Columbia River. Such hazing has regularly occurred since the 1980s.
Stresses on fish
Oregon Fish and Wildlife can’t say for certain that this hazing ultimately reduces the number of birds traveling to sensitive areas, or if keeping the birds away from smolts means more fish survive to come back as adults.

“The diet data indicates cormorants don’t really care what they eat, they eat what’s around and what’s easy to catch,” said James Lawonn, a biologist and avian predation coordinator for the department. As other prey begin to run through the rivers and up and down the coast after May, research by the department and Oregon State University show salmon make up even less of the birds’ diet.

Salmon survival depends on a variety of factors, including huge variables like ocean conditions and habitat loss, Lawonn said. Still, the state is trying to ease any additional stresses the fish may face.

This sort of nonlethal hazing will likely continue for the foreseeable future — the state’s particular hazing program is already in the budget for next year — but it is, Lawonn believes, ultimately a social question.

“How much does society want to harass a native bird to promote survival of salmon, some of which are in conservation danger, some of which aren’t?” he said.

Cormorant massacre underway

http://www.animals24-7.org/2015/09/25/cormorant-massacre-underway/

Headline shotby Bob Sallinger,  conservation director, Audubon Society of Portland

Further to my ANIMALS 24-7 posting of September 14,  2015,  Feds resume killing cormorants despite admitting “nesting population targets were met,  for the past two weeks, federal government employees from the Wildlife Services office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been shooting double-crested cormorants from a boat in the Columbia River Estuary near East Sand Island.  Shotgun blasts have been audible from shore.  Observers on shore have also been able to see three federal employees moving about in a small boat shooting cormorants out of the sky and collecting them from the water with nets. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,  which is in charge of the operation,  reports that they have shot 863 double-crested cormorants and 10 non-target Brandt’s cormorants in the past two weeks.  The Corps intends to continue the shooting into the fall in order to achieve their goal of killing more than 4,000 double-crested cormorants this season.

OPB photo #2

Oregon Public Broadcasting was able to get the first footage of the killings earlier this week. It is now posted on their website:

Government Documents Reveal That Killing Cormorants Won’t Help Columbia River Salmon

August 12, 2015

Contact: Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland, (503) 380-9728 or bsallinger@audubonportland.org
Dan Rohlf, Earthrise Law Center, (503) 484-3943 or rohlf@lclark.edu
Collette Adkins, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821 or cadkins@biologicaldiversity.org
Michael Harris, Friends of Animals, michaelharris@friendsofanimals.org
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund, (707) 795-2533, x 1010 or mbackus@aldf.org
Sharnelle Fee, Wildlife Center of the North Coast, (503) 338-0331 or director@coastwildlife.org

Government Documents Reveal That Killing Cormorants Won’t Help Columbia River Salmon

Despite Findings, Federal Agency Authorized Killing More Than 10,000 Cormorants

PORTLAND, Ore.— Conservation groups today called for an investigation after agency documents, released last week under court order, showed that killing double-crested cormorants will not benefit salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own biologists found that fish not eaten by cormorants would be eaten by other predators, but nevertheless authorized the killing of more than 10,000 double-crested cormorants and destruction of more than 26,000 cormorant nests on East Sand Island near the mouth of the Columbia.

Double-crested cormorant
Photo courtesy Flickr/Mark Dumont. This photo is available for media use.

“Dead set on killing cormorants, the Service ignored its own science,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency’s own analysis makes clear that its cormorant-killing program is doing nothing to help endangered fish. My heart aches for all the birds that have needlessly suffered and died. The killing needs to stop now.”

Scientists with the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in a 2014 report that salmon and steelhead mortality due to cormorant predation is “completely compensatory.” This means that fish eaten by the birds would have died anyway of other causes — primarily consumed by fish and other predators — making it worthless to kill cormorants to increase salmon and steelhead runs.

The report states that “efforts to reduce predation by double-crested cormorants are expected to result in no changes or benefits to these fish populations in terms of increasing adult returns or abundance.” In contrast, the report concludes that “efforts to reduce mortality during passage through the hydro system are expected to result in increased productivity and abundance of steelhead.”

“The Service’s analysis confirms what we’ve argued for years,” said Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland conservation director. “The federal agencies responsible for recovering endangered fish should take steps to save salmon and steelhead by improving federal dam operations rather than making native birds the scapegoats for human-caused declines in Columbia Basin salmon runs. This is a senseless slaughter and the government knew it and chose to conceal this information during the public process.”

This spring several conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to stop the slaughter of thousands of double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River basin. The lawsuit asserts that the federal agencies are scapegoating the native birds for salmon declines when the real threat is mismanagement of the federal hydropower system. Through this litigation the court ordered the Service to release documents related to whether its cormorant-killing program will actually increase returns of adult fish, which led to last week’s release of the federal scientists’ analysis.

In today’s letter conservation groups called on Dan Ashe, the Fish and Wildlife Service director, to investigate why this information was not disclosed during the public process that led to the decision to kill cormorants on East Sand Island. The groups also demanded that the Service withdraw permits allowing the Army Corps to kill cormorants on East Sand Island, given the documented lack of scientific justification. So far this year, the federal agencies have killed more than 100 adult birds and destroyed thousands of nests, with more killings planned.

Killing cormorants: Study finding culling to have no impact ignored, Audubon Society says

image

http://www.dailyastorian.com/Free/20150812/killing-cormorants-study-finding-culling-to-have-no-impact-ignored-audubon-society-says?utm_source=Daily+Astorian+Updates&utm_campaign=223d46e2ba-TEMPLATE_Daily_Astorian_Newsletter_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e787c9ed3c-223d46e2ba-109860249

By GOSIA WOZNIACKA33

Associated Press

August 12, 2015 6:00PM

One of the newly disclosed documents is an analysis by U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists concluding that killing double-crested cormorants would not benefit Snake River steelhead.

PORTLAND — Conservation groups opposed to the ongoing killing of cormorants on the Columbia River to protect steelhead and salmon say they have documents showing a federal agency ignored a finding by its own biologists that the measure would not help the fish.

The Audubon Society of Portland and several other groups made the documents public Wednesday. They were obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a court order.

The groups had challenged the killing in a federal lawsuit. In May, a judge declined to block the plan to shoot the cormorants, but the lawsuit is ongoing.

One of the newly disclosed documents is an analysis by U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists concluding that killing double-crested cormorants would not benefit Snake River steelhead — which are most affected by cormorant predation — because fish not eaten by the birds would be eaten by other predators.

“As a consequence, efforts to reduce cormorant predation on steelhead are expected to have no effect on Snake River steelhead population productivity or adult abundance,” the analysis says. It adds that killing cormorants is “similarly unlikely to benefit the productivity of… other salmonid populations.”

The second document, a timeline written by Fish and Wildlife biologists, shows multiple staff at the agency were aware of the analysis and its conclusion. It also shows the biologists were concerned that the U.S. Corps of Engineers did not address their findings.

Despite the analysis, earlier this year U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorized the Corps to kill about 11,000 cormorants — or 5,600 breeding pairs — on East Sand Island at the mouth of the Columbia between Oregon and Washington. The uninhabited island is North America’s biggest cormorant nesting colony. The agency also authorized the Corps to oil 26,000 nests to prevent the eggs inside them from hatching.

Both agencies declined to comment on the documents, citing ongoing litigation. It’s unclear whether the Corps was aware of the analysis when it wrote its environmental impact statement.

Federal agencies blame the cormorants for eating an average 12 million juvenile salmon a year as they migrate down the Columbia to the ocean. Some of the fish are federally protected species.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, said conservation groups repeatedly asked the agencies whether killing cormorants would make a difference.

“We went through a major public process, which is supposed to ensure transparency,” said Sallinger. “They never disclosed that their own biologists were fundamentally questioning the efficacy of this action. They chose to bury it and that’s unconscionable.”

Sallinger also said the analysis confirmed what conservation groups have been saying all along, including in their lawsuit: that it’s the dams that most impact fish. In their analysis, the federal biologists found that efforts to reduce mortality during passage through the hydro system on the Columbia would result in increased productivity and abundance of steelhead.

The focus on cormorants, Sallinger said, is “about distracting the public from the real reason of salmon decline, the hydro system. They’re spending tax dollars killing protected birds that will have absolutely no impact on salmon.”

The conservationists are calling for the government to stop killing the cormorants, and to launch an investigation into why the agencies ignored their own biologists’ findings and didn’t disclose the documents to the public. So far, 158 cormorants have been killed using .22-caliber rifles and more than 5,089 nests have been oiled, destroying the eggs inside them.

Cormorants are not the only animals to be targeted for eating salmon. Caspian terns have also been pushed off an island in the Columbia, and sea lions have been killed to reduce the numbers of salmon eaten.

Army Corps resumes killing East Sand Island cormorants

Dailyastorian.com

By Katie Wilson

EO Media Group

July 17, 2015 12:01AM

Madeline Kalbach/Submitted Photo
Double-crested cormorants like this one spread their wings in the sun to dry after getting them wet in the pursuit of small fish in the water. East Sand Island near Chinook is the location of a major colony of the birds.

<!–

–>

Death toll hit 158 in early July.

CHINOOK, Wash. — Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are once again killing double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island after stopping for a week at the end of June, saying they didn’t want to disturb nesting birds or orphan newly hatched chicks.

According to numbers released on the Army Corps website, contractors killed 33 birds sometime between July 3 and July 9, bringing the total killed this year to 158. The website does not clarify if the birds killed were only double-crested cormorants; the agency’s depredation permit allows for the accidental take of other cormorant species, including Brandt’s cormorants which also nest on the island, and pelagic cormorants that sometimes fly nearby.

No nests were destroyed through a process called “oiling” during this most recent lethal take period, but sometime between June 9 (the last time numbers were published on the website) and June 24 (when killing had been halted for roughly a week) and before July 3 (the beginning of the most recent take), contractors apparently oiled 3,320 nests, bringing the total of nests oiled to date to 5,089.

This is just 790 nests shy of the total take of nests allowed under a one-year depredation permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Oiling prevents eggs from hatching and the bird embryos die in the shell.

Killing authorized

The killing is authorized under a depredation permit the Corps obtained this year as part of a management plan the agency says will protect runs of juvenile salmon by removing a large number of the birds that prey on them.

Two species of cormorant nest seasonally on East Sand Island, a 62-acre island at the mouth of the Columbia River, but only one is targeted under the management plan: double-crested cormorants. The colony’s numbers have swelled in recent years and the Corps says adult birds consume millions of young protected and endangered salmon every year.

The depredation permit, which must be renewed annually, is valid through Jan. 31, 2016. But the birds are only on the island seasonally, arriving in the early spring to begin nesting and departing when colder weather rolls in.

Orphaned chicks could starve

The Audubon Society of Portland fears killing birds at the height of the nesting season impacts the colony in ways the agencies have not adequately accounted for, since any orphaned chicks will likely starve to death or die from exposure.

Audubon is suing the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps’ contractors — the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service — regarding the double-crested cormorant management plan.

The Corps says the contractors are taking care not to shoot nesting parent birds.

“They’re very specific about how they’re only culling adults where they can clearly see there are no eggs present,” said Army Corps spokeswoman Diana Fredlund.

Under the management plan, the Corps plans to reduce the total number of breeding pairs on the island from about 14,000 to 5,600 by 2018, a move the Audubon Society says unnecessarily slashes a healthy colony during a time when double-crested cormorants are struggling elsewhere.

Corps Has “Removed” 125 Cormorants (So Far)

June 12, 2015  • 

image

During the day, crews from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services typically survey the island and the cormorants’ habitat, corps spokesman Matthew Eppard said Friday.

The birds are shot at night using rifles equipped with silencers and lead-free ammunition, as required by the environmental impact statement. Teams work in two and threes and are armed with .22 caliber rifles, using night vision scopes. Shooting at night is meant to reduce disturbances to other species and also helps hunters identify cormorants that have chicks (they’re trying to avoid killing roosting pairs to avoid leaving hatchlings without parents).

Shot cormorants are removed from the island and surrounding waters as quickly as possible using all-terrain vehicles and small, inflatable boats. They’re taken to a nearby disposal area where they are either buried or incinerated.

Current plans are to continue removing birds from the island for several more months.

“I know it will go into the fall,” Eppard said.

The corps has said it needs to substantially reduce the number of cormorants in the Columbia River estuary to protect salmon and steelhead runs protected by the Endangered Species Act. The corps’ three-year plan calls for killing about 11,000 adult birds, more than a third of the 30,000 birds on the island, and spraying vegetable oil on more than 15,000 eggs to keep them from hatching.

A federal judge earlier this month rejected an attempt by a coalition of animal rights groups to block the project. District Court Judge Michael Simon said the groups failed to show the plan would cause irreparable harm to the species, which biologists say eat millions of juvenile salmon annually.

Each Thursday by 9 a.m. the corps will update results from culling and egg oiling that occurred during the previous week on the cormorant EIS web page at http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Current.

One cormorant’s plea to stop the slaughter

Painting Courtesy Barry Kent McKay

Painting Courtesy Barry Kent McKay

https://wordpress.com/post/35261376/new/

The Corps, the Cormorants, and the Cull

One cormorant’s plea to stop the slaughter

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently approved a culling of the large mixed seabird colony on East Sand Island, near the mouth of the Columbia River. The plan aims to reduce the number of double-crested cormorants to 5,600 breeding pairs from roughly 13,000 by 2018, through a combination of hazing, oiling the eggs in 15,000 nests, and shooting approximately 11,000 individuals. The cull is necessary, says the Corps, because cormorants eat an average of 11 million young salmon and steelhead each year—up to 20 percent of hatchery releases—as the smolts migrate out to sea.

During the drafting of the environmental impact statement, the Corps received more than 150,000 public comments, of which about 98 percent opposed its plan. Here is one such letter, dredged up from the very bottom of the pile.

To Whom It May Concern:

I realize the comment period may be over, and that as of March 19, your plan has received the blessing of the necessary higher-ups. But I feel I have to speak out.

To begin, I admit that we are not the most beloved of birds. People kill more than 40,000 of us each year all over the country. And I get it. We have a taste for fish, and an enviable talent for catching them. When you make said fish freely available to us by raising great numbers of them all in one place and sending them downstream, we simply can’t help helping ourselves. (I am pretty sure that if you happened upon an all-you-can-eat buffet you would tuck in, too.) True, we sometimes drive out animals more couth than ourselves. We poop so much that trees sometimes die. But it is natural for us to travel in large groups, and make ourselves at home as we see fit. This is a behavior with which you, as part of the U.S. Army, are familiar, I think? But I’m just speculating here.

In any case, this brings me to the present circumstance. I don’t want to embarrass you, but you, people of the Corps, do remember that you created East Sand Island for birds, right? Back in the 1990s, thousands of Caspian Terns nested on Rice Island, a few miles upriver. They, too, ate millions of young salmon and steelhead. So you drove the terns to this island, which you had created out of sand. Once they settled in, they shifted their diet to other small fishes. (Terns are agreeable like that, bless their hearts.)

But we cormorants showed up, too. We took a look around and thought, Hey, nice island! What better place to pluck out the young hatchery fish sent out every year in tremendous, naïve waves to the sea! (You’ve dammed up so many other streams and rivers that there are few ways left for them to get around us. Thanks!) Our numbers increased. We started eating the—excuse me—your salmon. And yes, we eat a lot of them. So you tried to thwart our voracious appetites. You tried to make the island less homey. You confined us to ever-smaller areas, and surrounded us with walls, fences, and observation towers. Our colony now looks like a prison camp! But we didn’t leave. Indeed, we persevered in spite of your best efforts. What can I say? We are a hardy folk.

I can see how this might be frustrating for you. And by “this” I mean the nuances of ecology and all of its unintended consequences, its unforeseen contingencies. You are the Corps of Engineers, after all. You have a proud history of seeing the world as a place where Tab A goes into Slot B, just so. You see: salmon. You see: cormorants. You see: cormorants eating salmon. Subtract: cormorants. Problem: solved. Or so you assume. (Never mind that most of those extremely tasty smolts wouldn’t have made it back to their native hatcheries; that states like Montana and Washington actually consider hatchery steelhead and salmon harmful to wild genetic stocks.)

I can’t help but admire your resolve. Your decision-making has the solidity of concrete. Rest assured, I don’t write to critique the relative merits of your plans. I’ll leave that to others more qualified than I, such as the several biologists—including the one you yourself hired to study my comings and goings for nearly 20 years—who say you both misinterpret and misrepresent the data and therefore are not making the correct use of the best available science.

Granted, we do eat a lot of fish. Mea culpa. And I know it is easier and—and let’s be honest here—more viscerally satisfying to blast away at me and few thousand of my kin than it is to confront the full range of ecological complications for which you are responsible. (We are a far ranging species—we remember Katrina.) Yet I must remind you: Cormorants can’t build dams. It is not thanks to us that well over half of the Columbia salmon and steelhead runs are threatened or endangered. But now that you’re confronted with what to you seems a distasteful side effect of your work (to us it is glorious!), you go all ballistic. It hardly seems fair. We’re just doing what nature intended us birds to do.

Thank you for considering these comments. Perhaps we could discuss the issue one day over a little (wild) salmon. I hear Cabezon up in Northeast Portland serves a nice fillet.

From one rampant consumer to another,

DCCO

P.S. To all you sea lions yukking it up at the East Mooring Basin in Astoria: Stop laughing. Your time will come.

Update: On Monday, April 13, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received the necessary permits to proceed with the cull. The plans will wipe out 15 percent of the Double-crested Cormorants west of the Rocky Mountains. The Audubon Society of Portland plans to sue the Army Corps of Engineers, according to an April 14 press release. “We are deeply disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for issuing these permits,” Audubon Society of Portland conservation director Bob Sallinger said in the release. “The pubic looks to the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect wild birds, not to permit wanton slaughter.”

Learn more about how you can help.

The Cormorant Death Toll So Far, 109…

http://www.dailyastorian.com/Free/20150528/corps-reports-killing-109-cormorants-so-far-to-help-salmon?utm_source=Daily+Astorian+Updates&utm_campaign=f7bac2e1bf-TEMPLATE_Daily_Astorian_Newsletter_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e787c9ed3c-f7bac2e1bf-109860249

also

http://koin.com/2015/05/26/cormorant-culling-underway-to-save-salmon/

Cormorant culling underway to save salmon

Plans to reduce the population of double crested cormorants from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 by 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The coast is clear for the United States Army Corps of Engineers to kill nearly 10,000 cormorants that feed on salmon, and bird lovers have exhausted their legal appeals.

Culling of thousands of cormorants began this past weekend in an effort to reduce their breeding population from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 by 2018.

According to the Corps, the concentration of cormorants on East Sand Island in the mouth of the Columbia River could be the largest in the world. As cormorant numbers continue to grow, so does their need for salmon.

“As they are nesting they need to feed their young and it’s a perfect food source as the smolts migrate out toward the ocean,” Robert Winters with the Corps told KOIN 6 News.

Winters said simply scaring the birds away would not eliminate the problem, and killing them would save nearly 11 million juvenile salmon from being eaten every year.

“If you put that into context, there’s 3.8 million people living in Oregon, so that’s 2.5 times the population of Oregon,” Winters said. “It’s a significant impact.”

An environmental impact statement calls for the Corps to shoot adult birds, spray eggs with oil so they won’t hatch, and destroy nests.

The Corps hopes to keep cormorants out of the lower Columbia River. The further up the Columbia the birds go, the more dangerous they can be to salmon populations.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Diana Fredlund told KOIN 6 News the culling began a few days ago. However, the times when culling or egg oiling is done will not be disclosed, she said.

Conservation groups lost their latest appeal last week when a judge refused to stop the bird kill plan. Some conservationists say dams are to blame for killing the fish, not the cormorants. A lawsuit challenging the plan is scheduled for a court hearing this summer.

image

The Columbia Cormorant ‘Cull’ Begins

image

http://www.dailyastorian.com/Local_News/20150528/the-cull-begins-corps-shoots-cormorants-to-save-salmon

By JEFF BARNARD

Associated Press

Published:May 28, 2015 8:46AM

Armed with rifles equipped with silencers, government hunters have started shooting seabirds on an uninhabited island at the mouth of the Columbia River, to reduce their consumption of juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged Wednesday that wildlife control personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services started over the weekend implementing the corps’ plan to cut by more than half the numbers of double-crested cormorants nesting on East Sand Island between Oregon and Washington, where they eat millions of juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean. The island is the biggest double-crested cormorant nesting site in North America, and some of the salmon are protected species.

Bob Winters, program manager for the corps, said a team of three to four wildlife control personnel armed with .22-caliber rifles would be killing birds on the island through August. The goal is to reduce the colony from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 pairs by 2018.

The Audubon Society of Portland has challenged the killing in a federal lawsuit that argues the corps is ignoring the biggest threat to salmon, hydroelectric dams on the Columbia. Conservation director Bob Sallinger called on the corps to allow independent observers on the island so the public can know how the killing is being carried out, and to call off the killing until the lawsuit has run its course.

“The idea of turning the largest cormorant colony in the United States into as shooting gallery and killing cormorants on the nest is a low point in terms of recent wildlife management efforts,” Sallinger said.

Winters said Wildlife Services personnel are focusing on portions of the colony where eggs have yet to hatch, so as not to create a situation where chicks are left without parents to feed them. Numbers of how many birds have been killed and eggs oiled to prevent them from hatching are to be posted on a corps website on Thursdays each week.

He added the corps has a contract with people who are verifying the culling is being done in accordance with the environmental impact statement.

Federal hunters prepare to kill salmon-eating birds

By JEFF BARNARD

Associated Press

Published:May 25, 2015 12:00AM
Last changed:May 25, 2015 10:04AM

Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP
Double[breasted cormorants on East Sand Island in the Columbia River near Ilwaco, Wash., in 2011. Government hunters have begun scouting an island at the mouth of the Columbia River as they prepare to shoot thousands of hungry seabirds to reduce the numbers of baby salmon they eat.

 <!–

–> Wildlife Services is slated to file a plan with the corps next week before starting to kill the birds.

Government hunters have begun scouting an island at the mouth of the Columbia River as they prepare to shoot thousands of hungry seabirds to stop them from eating baby salmon.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Diana Fredlund said hunters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency went to a small uninhabited island off Ilwaco, Wash., Thursday to survey the land before carrying out plans to reduce the population of double crested cormorants from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 pairs by 2018.

Double crested cormorants are large black birds with long necks, hooked bills and webbed feet that dive beneath the surface to eat small fish.

Wildlife Services is slated to file a plan with the corps next week before starting to kill the birds.

An environmental impact statement calls for them to shoot adult birds, spray eggs with oil so they won’t hatch, and destroy nests. Carcasses of dead birds will be donated to educational and scientific institutions, or otherwise disposed of through burial or incineration.

Biologists blame the cormorants for eating an average 12 million baby salmon a year as they migrate down the Columbia to the ocean. Some of the fish are federally protected species.

The cormorant population on East Sand Island near Ilwaco, Wash., has grown from about 100 pairs in 1989 to some 14,000 pairs now, making it the largest cormorant nesting colony in the West. Soil dredged from the bottom of the Columbia to deepen shipping channels was dumped on the island over the years, expanding the area available for nesting.

Conservation groups failed in a bid to get a federal judge to stop the killing, arguing dams on the Columbia kill far more young salmon than the birds do.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Portland Audubon Society, said Wildlife Services and the corps should hold off for this year after getting started two months later than recommended. The late start would increase the suffering of the birds by producing more chicks that starve to death after their parents are killed.

“I think this demonstrates a remarkable level of indifference and ineptitude,” he said.

Cormorants are the latest birds targeted for eating baby salmon. Biologists pushed Caspian terns off Rice Island in the Columbia, and created nesting habitat in lakes in eastern Oregon and San Francisco Bay to draw them away from the mouth of the Columbia.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also has been shooting and harassing cormorants on coastal rivers to protect salmon.

Sea lions are also killed to reduce the numbers of adult salmon eaten as they wait to go over the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam in the Columbia.

http://www.dailyastorian.com/Free/20150524/government-hunters-prepare-to-kill-salmon-eating-birds?utm_source=Daily+Astorian+Updates&utm_campaign=49c7ba6e39-TEMPLATE_Daily_Astorian_Newsletter_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e787c9ed3c-49c7ba6e39-109860249#