Planned Kill Scaled Back, But Fishes Still Trump Cormorant

It’s official: fish are more important than birds.

Following the release of their final environmental impact statement on the subject on Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a scaled-back version of its plan to kill thousands of (ironically) federally protected birds. The slaughter is designed to prevent the birds from eating endangered fishes at the mouth of the Columbia River, including juvenile salmon and steelhead.

11,000 Marked for Death

The East Sand Island colony of double-crested cormorants is set to be reduced by 57 percent via various lethal measures over the next three years. The Corps of Engineers’ plan, first introduced last year in response to an NOAA Fisheries recommendation, calls for the popping of caps in roughly 11,000 birds, as well as pouring oil over 26,000 nests to prevent eggs from hatching.

The initial draft of the plan, which was met with over 150,000 formal complaints, called for 16,000 cormorants to be shot, so I guess that’s sort of a win?

The COE estimates that, over the past 25 years or so, the cormorant colony in question has grown from around 100 nesting pairs to over 13,000. These birds are estimated to have eaten an average of 11 million smolts every year—less than seven percent of the juvenile steelhead that pass through the area. The bird murder scheme would reduce the cormorant colony to less than 6,000 breeding pairs.

The double-crested cormorant: wanted by the US Gov't

The double-crested cormorant: sentenced to death by the US Gov’t

More Dangers Than Just the Cormorant

Many opponents of the COE’s plan rightly point out that there are plenty of other factors that put the poor little fishies in danger beyond the cormorants. Audubon Society of Portland conservation director Bob Sallinger stated that “the primary causes for salmon declines are […] dams, habitat losses, and hatchery fish.”

Sallinger suggested that, instead of mercilessly slaughtering the poor sea birds, maybe the Corps of Engineers could seek out other solutions. Modifying dams to improve fish passage, improving the overall habitat along the Columbia, and forcing the birds off the island without killing them are all viable alternatives, Sallinger stated.

COE spokeswoman Diana Fredlund said in a statement that the cull could begin as early as this spring. Fredlund stated that the mass murder would be “done humanely and under all the proper veterinary approvals.”

Sallinger, meanwhile, stated that if the plan goes forward, his group plans to stop it and is “prepared to use all tools at our disposal,” such as a totally bad@$$ lawsuit.

Photo credit: Mark Dumont / Foter / CC BY-NC