Deal Decides on Details for Caspian Terns' New Homeby Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, March 30, 2002
Four conservation groups reached a settlement with the federal government Friday that would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin creating a new home for Caspian terns on an island in the lower Columbia River.
The Seattle Audubon Society and three other groups won a legal ruling last year that prevented the corps from harassing the birds to stop them from forming a nesting colony on Rice Island. The corps wanted to roust the birds from the island because they eat millions of young migrating salmon each year.
The ruling also had prevented the corps from preparing a new home for the terns on East Sand Island, near the mouth of the Columbia, where anchovies and other ocean-dwelling baitfish replace young salmon as the terns' main source of food.
In 1999, the corps began making Rice Island less suitable for terns by planting grass where the colony was nesting. Terns, which lay eggs in depressions they scrape in the sand, nest on open beaches so they can keep an eye out for predators.
Conservationists opposed harassing the terns, which are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The settlement signed Friday by the conservation groups, the corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would allow the corps to clear grass from East Sand Island, providing a nesting place for the terns. It also would allow the agency to harass terns attempting to nest on Rice Island, though the corps could not disturb any birds that have laid eggs.
The settlement still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle.
Rice Island is about 20 miles east of the river mouth, in the middle of an area where millions of young salmon and steelhead linger each spring and summer before striking out to the ocean.
The settlement comes as the first Caspian terns are arriving from their wintering grounds in Mexico. The colony on the lower Columbia is thought to be the world's largest.
"Time is of the essence for us to get East Sand Island ready for them," said Matt Rabe, a corps spokesman.
The settlement allows the corps to use decoys and recordings of tern calls to attract the sociable birds to a six-acre clearing on East Sand Island. The agency also would be able to prevent predators such as seagulls and raccoons from threatening the colony.
Researchers also could continue studying the terns, along with their impact on salmon and steelhead. The agreement requires the Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the corps, to prepare a long-term management plan for the terns by Feb. 28, 2005.
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