Plan Calls for Squeezing Terns Off Islandby Staff
Lewiston Tribune, July 24, 2004
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Caspian terns that eat young salmon would be squeezed off a Columbia River island in hopes they find new nesting grounds as far away as San Francisco Bay under a plan proposed Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The draft management plan was prompted by a lawsuit brought by wildlife groups. It calls for shrinking the sandy expanses favored by the birds for nesting on East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary and creating seven new nesting areas in Washington, Oregon and California at a cost of $2.7 million.
"We are hoping that when the birds are forced off East Sand Island they will be in this mode of searching out new sites," said Nanette Seto, the biologist in charge of the project for Fish and Wildlife.
Gerald Winegrad, vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, said they objected to the idea of shrinking the habitat on East Sand Island before terns moved to the new nesting islands. They also would like to see East Sand Island designated as a national wildlife refuge.
Winegrad said the group has not analyzed the suitability of the new nesting sites, but is unhappy that closer sites in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay in Washington were not considered on political grounds because of local opposition to terns eating salmon.
The 17,000 birds, which represent 70 percent of the West Coast population, were lured with recordings of bird calls and decoys to East Sand Island near the mouth of the Columbia from Rice Island after biologists found they were eating millions of young salmon migrating to the ocean.
Moving the birds 15 miles downriver from Rice Island in 1999 and 2000 reduced the numbers of salmon in the birds' diet, because they were eating other small fish as well. But having so many of them nesting in one place left them vulnerable to a catastrophic event, such as a storm or disease outbreak.
National Audubon and three other wildlife groups sued in 2000, arguing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife failed to involve the public in developing the tern management plan as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The relocation plan is part of the settlement.
If the plan gains final approval by February, work on developing the new nesting sites could begin in March, Seto said.
"It will probably be phased in based on funding," she said.
The plan calls for shrinking the bare sand area where the birds nest on East Sand Island from about four acres to about one acre over the course of three to five years by allowing grass to grow. Before shrinking the nesting area, Fish and Wildlife would create eight acres of new nesting areas.
One would be at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Three would be in Oregon at Fern Ridge Reservoir, Summer Lake and Crum Lake. Three would be in San Francisco Bay on Brooks Island, Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, and Hayward Regional Shoreline.
Researchers estimated terns on Rice Island devoured 11 million salmon and steelhead smolts in 1998 -- a big chunk of the 95 million to make it as far downstream as the Columbia River estuary. After moving to East Sand Island their salmon consumption dropped to about 4.5 million smolts a year.
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