Conservation, Animal Welfare Groups File Lawsuit
Conservation and animal welfare groups filed a lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court of Oregon to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to kill and harass double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island in the lower Columbia River estuary.
The suit by five groups asks the court to immediately stop action on the Corps' plan while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.
That plan would reduce the cormorant population on the island by more than 50 percent, a reduction that amounts to up to 38.5 percent of the entire western population of the sea bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to the brief filed by the five groups.
The suit lists as defendants the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, the federal agency that would carry out the plan.
The Corps signed a record of decision for its "Columbia River Estuary Cormorants: Environmental Impact Statement" March 20. The EIS lays out the Corps' four-year plan to reduce the lower Columbia River population of the water bird by 56 percent over four years (www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Current/CormorantEIS.aspx).
The Audubon Society of Portland threatened the lawsuit the same day the Corps issued its record of decision. On April 13, the Service approved its one-year depredation permit, giving the Corps the go ahead to implement that plan.
However, the plaintiffs say culling cormorants in the lower river is just a diversion from the real problems of fish recovery, the operation of the federal dams on the Columbia River.
"This is not about birds versus fish," said Bob Sallinger, Society conservation director. "The Corps and other federal agencies have proposed rolling back dam operations that benefit salmon while at the same time targeting thousands of cormorants. Blaming salmon and steelhead declines on wild birds that have coexisted with salmon since time immemorial is nothing more than a diversion."
The first-year depredation permit issued by the Service authorizes the Corp to take 3,489 individual double-crested cormorants and to remove 5,879 nests, along with 105 Brandt's cormorants and 10 pelagic cormorants.
But, ultimately, the Corps' four-year plan would cut the size of the cormorant breeding colony on East Sand Island -- believed to be the largest in the world -- from about 12,900 breeding pairs to between 5,380 and 5,939 pairs. The colony accounts for 98 percent of the double-crested cormorant breeding population in the estuary.
It would do this by two lethal methods: shooting and egg oiling, which suffocates the growing embryo inside the egg shell. In addition, the Corps will remove cormorant nests.
Joining the Society as plaintiffs in the suit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlife Center of the North Coast, Animal Defense Fund and Friends of Animals. They are represented by Dan Rohlf of Earthrise Law Center.
The lawsuit claims defendants violated the law in a number of ways. (The complaint can be found here: audubonportland.org/files/habitat/cormorant-complaint.) Among the allegations:
Audubon Announces Intent to Sue Over Plan to Cull Cormorants from Columbia River Estuary by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 3/27/15
USFWS Grants Corps One-Year Depredation Permit To Begin Culling Columbia Estuary Cormorants by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 4/17/15
Audubon Announces Intent to Sue Corps Over Plan To Cull Cormorants From Columbia River Estuary by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 3/27/15
Final EIS Released On Reducing Estuary Cormorant Numbers; Proposes Both Shooting And Egg Oiling by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 2/6/15
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