By Katie Wilson
EO Media Group
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.
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.