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Management plan shoots cormorants to save Columbia salmon

COURTESY: SCOTT CARPENTER - The Audubon Society of Portland intends to sue the Army Corps of Engineers over their plan to kill 11,000 double-crested cormorants.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released a plan to kill 11,000 double-breasted cormorants that live on East Sand Island in the Columbia River Estuary to keep them from preying on salmon and steelhead.

In response, the Audubon Society of Portland just announced its intent to sue the Corps over the action.

“We are deeply disappointed that despite more than 145,000 comments opposing this decision, the federal government has chosen to move forward with the wanton slaughter of thousands of protected birds,” Audubon Society of Portland Conservation Director Bob Sallinger said in a statement.

“Rather than addressing the primary cause of salmon decline, the manner in which the Corps operates the Columbia River Hydropower System, the Corps has instead decided to scapegoat wild birds and pursue a slaughter of historic proportions. Sadly, this will do little or nothing to protect wild salmon, but it will put double-crested cormorant populations in real jeopardy.”

At approximately 50 acres in size, about 5 miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River, East Sand Island is officially recognized as an Important Bird Area and home to the largest colony of Caspian terns in the world, the largest colony of double-crested cormorants in the western U.S., and the largest brown pelican post-breeding roost on the West Coast.

The Corps says that during the past 15 years, the double-crested cormorant population on East Sand Island has consumed about 11 million juvenile salmonids per year.

According to the Corps’ proposed action, they plan to “reduce the double-crested cormorant colony size from current levels (approximately 13,000 breeding pairs) to approximately 5,600 breeding pairs on East Sand Island.

Their “management plan” includes “shooting individual double-crested cormorants and oiling eggs in nests, along with hazing and integrated nonlethal methods to reduce the colony size over a period of 4 years. Shooting is proposed on East Sand Island and over water from boats.”

The Corps still must obtain permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before taking action.

After the population is reduced to about 5,600 breeding pairs, the Corps is proposing to reduce the nesting habitat for about 26,000 double-crested cormorants by excavating sand and placing rock armor to modifying the terrain of the island.

“This has never been about birds versus fish,” Sallinger says. “This has always been about the Corps refusing to stand up and fix the problems that they created. Blaming wild birds that have coexisted with salmon since time immemorial is nothing more than a diversion.”

Audubon believes the Corps should focus on the primary causes of salmon declines, including management of the federal hydropower system, habitat loss and hatchery fish.

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