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Terns Not Welcome on Rice Island

by Oregonian Staff
The Oregonian, January 23, 2000

Oregon, Idaho and Montana pursue a regional agency without Washington

Caspian terns that nest on a man-made island in the lower Columbia River and feed on young migrating salmon will have to find a new home this spring.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes that by preventing them from nesting on Rice Island, the terns will move about 15 miles downriver to East Sand Island.

A tern-relocation effort last year was only partly successful. About 1,500 nesting pairs moved to East Sand Island, which is about five miles from the ocean and farther from large concentrations of young salmon in the estuary. But more than 8,000 nesting pairs remained on Rice Island.

Caspian terns began showing up along the lower Columbia River in the 1980s after the Corps of Engineers created the 230-acre island with dredge spoils. Rice Island now supports the largest tern colony in North America.

Biologists think the birds eat as much as 8 percent of the juvenile salmon migrating down the Columbia to the ocean. The 190 million young salmon and steelhead trout that swam downriver in 1999 included fish from among the 12 groups listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"There's no room at the inn," said Matt Rabe, a corps spokesman. "The decision is the corps will restrict any terns from nesting on Rice Island."

If the plan is approved, the agency would have two people on Rice Island by early April whose job it would be to keep the birds from nesting. The workers' presence alone should be enough to keep terns away, Rabe said, but if necessary they will take stronger steps, such as filling in nests that the terns scrape in the sand. The workers will be instructed not to harm the terns, which are protected under the federal Migratory Birds Act, Rabe said.

At the same time, state and federal agencies will maintain about four acres of suitable habitat for terns on East Sand Island, keeping it free of vegetation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which has said the corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service have exaggerated the terns' impact on salmon, has signed off on the plan. "As long as we're assured there are nesting sites on East Sand Island, we're comfortable," said Carol Shuler, an ecological services supervisor.

For more information or for copies of the draft plan call Robert Willis of the corps' environmental resources branch, 503-808-4472. The plan, which is open to public comment until Feb. 18, also is available on the Internet at

Oregonian Staff
Terns Not Welcome on Rice Island
The Oregonian, January 23, 2000

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