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Ecology and salmon related articles

Tern Relocation Plan Won't Fly with DNR

by Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, March 19, 2000

The Columbia River's fish-eating terns won't be welcome on state Department of Natural Resources land until researchers come up with a better plan, said the agency's director.

"This does not sound like a really well- thought-out project to us," said Jennifer Belcher, as she defended DNR's opposition to a pilot bird relocation project that looks to have failed. "I haven't found very many people yet who thought this was a very good idea."

A regional working group, convened to end the Caspian terns' reign at the mouth of the Columbia River, is trying to find other patches of ground where it can lure the colony of about 20,000 birds. Dispersing the birds could save millions of young ocean-bound salmon that are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The trouble is, nobody wants the terns, which have received "considerable bad press and infamy," according to the tern relocation team.

And the terns are protected by the international Migratory Bird Act, making a solution much more complicated than shooting them.

Before the terns formed what's believed to be the world's largest tern colony on the Columbia's Rice Island, an island created by dumping dredgings from the river, they inhabited coastal zones such as Grays Harbor about 50 miles north.

So, the tern working group figured that would be a good relocation spot for a few hundred pairs to start with - presuming the terns could be persuaded to give up their plentiful salmon meals being supplied by one of the world's largest hatchery systems.

The working group selected Cate Island in Grays Harbor for a pilot project and began the permit process, but it soon got bogged in opposition from Southwestern Washington residents, politicians and state agencies.

As the owner of Cate Island, DNR has been trying to get grasses to grow there to slow wave erosion. So, when the tern group said it needed a bare beach to attract terns, that didn't fly.

While fish managers remain frustrated by the delays, Belcher is skeptical about solutions devised to date.

"I am thinking 'What in the world is making people think this is going to work?' " she said.

Belcher called for a broader approach that considers what changes could be caused by trying to disperse the bird colony. For instance, a massive tern invasion could take quite a chunk out of healthy Grays Harbor fish runs. And what if Rice Island is just overtaken by other fish-eating birds once the terns leave, Belcher asked.

"Somebody needs to demonstrate to us that they are considering all the environmental impacts, not just the one to save salmon," Belcher said. "We are trying to put (nature) back in balance, and it's kind of like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again."

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Mike Lee
Tern Relocation Plan Won't Fly with DNR
Tri-City Herald, March 19, 2000

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