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16,000 birds to be killed by Army Corps of Engineers . . . for eating fish

16,000 cormorants to be killed "without adequate justification" for eating fish
16,000 cormorants to be killed "without adequate justification" for eating fishNational Geographic

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to kill 16,000 cormorants for "doin' what comes naturally" -- eating fish.

16,000 cormorants to be killed by Army Corp of Engineers
16,000 cormorants to be killed by Army Corp of EngineersBianca Preusker, twelvesouls

Yup, you heard that right. The Army Corps wants to kill off thousands of cormorants (without adequate justification) for eating salmon smolt in the Columbia River Estuary, a bay on the Oregon–Washington border and the Pacific Coast of the United States. About 15,000 pairs of Double-crested Cormorants are estimated to nest on East Sand Island (ESI) in the estuary.

Pacific salmon are anadromous, meaning they start in freshwater (streams, lakes, rivers), migrate to the ocean, then return home to spawn and die. To manage the transition between freshwater and saltwater, salmon fry must go through a physical change known as "smolting," which begins in freshwater. (Wikipedia)

American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a leading national bird conservation organization, has raised multiple objections to the Army Corps' plan to kill off 16,000 of the Double-crested Cormorants over a four-year period, charging the Corps with “misinterpreting scientific data to make its case” and then completely ignoring other science that offered findings that appear to not support the proposed action.

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While the majority of cormorants have mainly dark plumage, some Southern Hemisphere species are black and white, and a few like the spotted shag of New Zealand are quite colorful (see slide show). Most adult cormorants are large, brownish-black birds with a small pouch of yellow-orange skin on the throat. Their bill is long, thin, and sharply hooked and their webbed feet have four toes. All are fish-eaters, dining on small eels, fish, and even water snakes. After fishing, cormorants go ashore and are frequently seen holding their wings out in the sun to dry.

East Sand 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.

According to Dr. George Wallace, ABC’s Vice President for Oceans and Islands, ABC has deep concerns about the preferred alternative -- the determination that the breeding population of cormorants on East Sand Island must be reduced from 15,000 breeding pairs to approximately 5,600 breeding pairs. He says this so-called "preferred alternative" is not based on any rigorous or peer-reviewed analysis. He also says the lack of a direct correlation between smolt consumption and cormorant colony size means the number of smolts saved by reducing the cormorant colony size is difficult to predict based on colony size alone.

ABC asserts that the "lethal approach" being recommended by the Corps in reducing the numbers of cormorants is offered without “adequate justification” and explanation of why the same result cannot be achieved through non-lethal methods. ABC says the expected benefits to salmon hinge not on how cormorant numbers are controlled (through harassment or lethal control), but on habitat modification that must occur to maintain the breeding cormorant population at the Corps' target of 5,600 breeding pairs.

According to ABC, the recommended alternative would reduce the entire western cormorant population by approximately 25 percent, constituting a "depredation control order going beyond local ramifications to encompass the entire western Double-crested Cormorants population.”

It is not clear if permits issued under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for this type of action can be "legally used" to reduce an entire regional population of a species protected under the MBTA, which requires permits for lethal control not be issued until it has been demonstrated that non-lethal methods are ineffective.

ABC questions the legality of issuing a depredation permit that apparently violates basic operating tenants of the MBTA. How about you?

What's your opinion on the matter?