First we blamed and killed sea lions for eating fish in the Columbia River, and now we’re blaming birds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ruffling feathers with its announcement of a controversial plan to kill 16,000 of them in an effort to save coho salmon and steelhead trout in Oregon.
The Army Corps plans on targeting double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island, which is located near the mouth of the Columbia River. It’s considered an important point for migrating salmon, but it’s also an important nesting site for cormorants and a variety of other birds.
According to the Audubon Society of Portland, the island is home to the largest double-crested cormorant colony in the west, the largest Brown Pelican roost in the Pacific Northwest and the largest Caspian Tern colony in the world. It has also been designated as an internationally recognized Important Bird Area by both the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy.
Even with thousands of cormorants in the area, they only consume about 3.6 percent of the local salmon population. Still, the Army Corps wants them gone and has passed over non-lethal management options because it believes they would be less effective. Instead its first choice is to spend $1.5 million a year over the next four years to take out a total of 15,955 cormorants, along with using land and boat-based hazing to keep them from nesting on the island.
Needless to say the plan is drawing opposition from wildlife advocates who are concerned that the proposal isn’t just cruel and wasteful, but that its using birds as scapegoats for threats to salmon, which are mainly caused by human activities that range from water reallocation and the building of dams to pollution and habitat loss, among other things.
They’re also concerned about how killing cormorants on a grand scale will affect their future and that the plan may have unintended consequences. Some believe cormorants are still recovering from the effects of DDT that caused their numbers to drop in the 1960s and that other populations in the West are declining.
The Audubon Society of Portland called the plan “horrific” and pointed out the corps has already spent millions trying, unsuccessfully, to change bird behavior on the island and is calling for it to completely overhaul its approach to managing birds in the area and to focus instead on the primary causes of salmon decline: dams and habitat loss.
The organization’s sentiments were echoed by others who don’t believe that mass slaughter is the solution to saving salmon and that the Army Corp should be considering other options.
“This is a crazy, crude and needlessly cruel plan that should go right back to the drawing board,” Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility told Oregon Live. “This operation represents an extreme militarization of wildlife management. Cormorants do not need to be treated like terrorists simply because they eat fish.”
Thankfully, the proposal isn’t final yet. The Army Corps will be holding a series of public meetings throughout July and will be accepting public comments on its proposal until August 4, so there’s still time to demand the government stop blaming and killing wild animals to solve problems we’ve caused.
Please send a message to the Army Corp of Engineers to let them know you oppose lethal control of birds on East Sand Island and urge it to focus on human-caused problems affecting salmon recovery. Comments can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Thinkstock