An environmental group is raising multiple objections to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' proposal to kill 16,000 cormorant birds on East Sand Island in the Columbia River Estuary.
The government agency's plan is to reduce predation of juvenile salmonids including salmon smolt by the birds. The Army Corps plan to kill the double-crested cormorants over four years was outlined in a draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The conclusions reached in the impact statement prompted the American Bird Conservancy to object this month in a 23-page letter to Sondra Ruckwardt at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Portland District Office. According to ABC’s expert, Dr. George Wallace, who wrote the comments and who is also the organization’s vice president for oceans and islands, “We have deep concerns… .The determination that the breeding population on ESI must be reduced to approximately 5,600 breeding pairs is not based on any rigorous or peer-reviewed analysis.”
About 15,000 pairs of double-crested cormorants nest on ESI. Adult cormorants are large, brownish-black birds with a small pouch of yellow-orange skin on the throat. ABC says the island provides excellent breeding habitat for the birds and a base from which to depart in search of small fish, which they capture in hooked beaks while diving into water.
ABC asserts that the lethal approach recommended by the Corps is offered “…without adequate justification and explanation of why the same result cannot be achieved through non-lethal methods.”
ABC says that the expected benefits to salmon hinge not in how cormorant numbers are controlled (through harassment or lethal control), but in the habitat modification that must occur to maintain the breeding DCCO population at the Corps’ target of 5,600 breeding pairs. Furthermore, ABC says the recommended alternative would reduce the entire western cormorant population by approximately 25 percent. It is not clear if permits issued under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for this type of action can be legally used to reduce an entire regional population of a protected species.
ABC says further that the MBTA requires that permits for lethal control not be issued until it has been demonstrated that non-lethal methods are ineffective. “Even then, lethal control cannot be the sole method of control and must be used in concert with non-lethal methods. We question the legality of issuing a depredation permit that apparently violates basic operating tenants of the MBTA,” Wallace said.
ABC also charged the Corps with misinterpreting scientific data to make its case.