Feds Propose Killing
by Steven Johnson
Frustrated by their inability to stop double-crested cormorants from devouring millions of endangered fish in the Northwest, federal officials are proposing to kill almost 16,000 birds during the next four years.
The Army Corps of Engineers issued a draft plan June 12, saying shooting thousands of cormorants is the best way to protect the region's investment in salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.
"Our preferred alternative, with its combination of components, advances our efforts and stands well to reduce significant predation damage," said Lt. Col. Glenn Pratt, the Corps' Portland District deputy commander.
The target is a huge colony of double-crested cormorants on Oregon's East Sand Island, near the mouth of the Columbia River. The birds eat an estimated 11 million juvenile salmon a year, or about 3.6 percent of the migrating population, according to Corps data.
Northwest utilities have been long concerned about the birds' eating prowess. About one-third of what electric cooperatives and other Bonneville Power Administration customers pay for wholesale power goes to fish and wildlife protection.
In some years, the Corps said, birds kill three to four times as many young salmon as hydroelectric dam turbines.
The bird colony has exploded in recent years, as regional efforts to boost the salmon population have started to pay off. The East Sand Island colony swelled from 100 breeding pairs in 1989 to about 15,000 in 2013. Keeping breeding pairs at less than 6,000 would achieve the desired result, the Corps said.
The Corps has tried non-lethal means, ranging from fencing to fireworks, to move the birds, without much success. Earlier this year, the Corps announced a smaller bird kill program at five hydro dams in the Northwest.
In addition to shooting 15,995 birds at East Sand Island, the Corps plans to break eggs or spray them with oil to prevent baby cormorants from hatching. The cormorant population is large enough to tolerate the losses, the Corps added in its plan.
The program would start next spring and cost about $1.5 million. The Corps is accepting public comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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