resuming culling of double-crested cormorants in the lower Columbia River
estuary on April 11 for the first time this year, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineer’s contractor abruptly stopped the boat-based shooting of the birds
April 27 after evidence the birds weren’t nesting on East Sand Island.
that date, the Department of Wildlife Services, the Corps’ contractor, had
culled 248 birds in the slightly more than two weeks since beginning active
shooting of birds near East Sand Island.
to a Corps management report, the birds were being scattered daily by as many
as 40 bald eagles. But the cormorants hadn’t entirely left the area. Some 6,090
were seen roosting overnight on the Astoria-Megler Bridge just upstream of East
Sallinger, conservation director for the Portland Audubon Society, said that
there always had been heavy eagle activity around the island and the cormorants
then had been able to nest.
was only when they added additional pressure of shooting and egg oiling that
the abandonment began to occur,” he said. “The Corps completely ignores the
fact that pressure on a colony like this can be cumulative---birds that were
already under pressure from eagles have also had to deal with relentless
shooting, egg oiling and human disruption of their colony for a couple of
is the combined pressures on the birds that may well have made the colony much
more “skittish,” he said.
Thursday, June 15, in a letter to Robyn Thorson, regional supervisor at the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has issued a depredation permit to shoot
the birds for three years running, the Audubon Society of Portland called for
the Service to withdraw the permit and to wait until NOAA Fisheries completes
its next biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System, due in
2018. The letter was signed by Sallinger.
is time to permanently terminate this project,” the letter says. “We urge the
US Fish and Wildlife Service to permanently withdraw the depredation permits
that it issued earlier this year and allow the rewrite of the Columbia River
Salmon BiOp, ordered by the Federal Court in Oregon, to be completed before
considering next steps regarding cormorants on East Sand Island.”
16,000 cormorants also left their nests in 2016 for reasons the Corps has not
determined. At the time, Sallinger called the incident a complete collapse of
the largest double-breasted cormorant colony on the West Coast and blamed the
hazing and culling for the collapse. He likened that event with what is
happening today at East Sand Island.
to allow unnecessary pressure to be put on this colony in light of the events
that have already occurred in 2016 and 2017 can only be viewed as reckless
disregard for the welfare of this species and an abdication of the US Fish and
Wildlife Service’s responsibility to protect our nation’s wildlife,” the letter
program to cull and oil nests, as well has other hazing activities to otherwise
discourage the presence of cormorants in the lower Columbia River estuary is
designed to protect migrating threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead
smolts by reducing the cormorant population that feed upon them.
Corps timeline published online at http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/environment/cormorants/
nearly daily activity on the island beginning with the start of culling April
11 and through the colony’s early rebuilding May 30.
was suspended, according to the timeline, April 27 due to “lack of colony
formation on the island. Photos show daily attempts by double-crested
cormorants to initiate nesting are continually interrupted by widespread
disturbances by bald eagles.”
May 1, some 258 double-crested and 23 pelagic cormorant nests were seen on the
Astoria-Megler Bridge and another 64 double-crested cormorant nests were seen
40 miles upstream on the Longview Bridge. Nesting on the Astoria Bridge had
increased to 385 double-crested and 36 pelagic cormorant nests by May 8.
May 2, a dead grey whale was deposited nearby by NOAA Fisheries in an attempt
to draw the eagles away from East Sand Island to allow the cormorants to begin
nesting, an action that Sallinger said “defied logic.”
cannot think of any situations where agencies have sought to address avian
predation issues by increasing predator attractants in the immediate vicinity
of the populations they are trying to protect,” he said in his letter to the
addition, dead trees that the eagles used as perches on the island were removed
on May 3.
May 17, with just occasional harassment by eagles, cormorants were apparently
comfortable enough to resume nesting on the island. Using aerial imagery, the
Corps calculated that 5,422 double-crested cormorants and 997 nests were on the
on May 19, all the cormorants again were scared off the island, mostly by
eagles. No eggs were observed in the nests.
of May 30, more than 10,000 cormorants had returned to the island, despite
periodic disturbances by as many as 22 eagles.
to Karim Delgado, Corps spokesperson, the agency has “taken no management
actions since April 27, and that we are continuing to monitor the situation,”
but there is no additional information since May 30 about the condition of the
cormorant colony on the island. “Right now we’re still waiting for the number
of cormorants to settle.”
is the third year in a row the Corps has been shooting cormorants in areas of
the lower estuary (generally west of the Astoria-Megler Bridge to East Sand
Island) and dousing eggs and destroying nests on the island.
predation on salmon and steelhead smolts migrating through the estuary on their
way to the ocean is an action called for by reasonable and prudent alternative
46 of the 2014 biological opinion for Columbia River salmon and steelhead.
plan calls for reducing the double-crested cormorant population in the estuary
from about 13,000 nesting pairs to 5,300-5,900, all by late 2018.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the Corps it’s third depredation permit
March 29 (http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Portals/24/docs/environment/EIS/Cormorants/2017_Depredation_permit_MB62133B-1.pdf).
year’s goal is to shoot 2,409 birds and addle eggs in 4,058 nests (750 nests
are allowed to be destroyed). The Corps has through January 31, 2018 to
complete the actions, which also includes hazing on East Sand Island as well as
other dredged-material islands in the lower estuary.
addition to double-crested cormorants, in 2017 the agency is allowed to take 72
Brandt’s cormorants and 7 Pelagic cormorants for depredation control purposes
due to misidentification of the birds in 2017.
year the Corps came up somewhat short of its goal to cull 3,114 birds, instead
culling 2,982 birds and destroying 1,092 nests through egg addling by coating
eggs with 100 percent corn oil, which suffocates the growing embryo inside the
shell, according to a 2016 Project Milestones and Culling Summary released by
the Corps April 5
April 28, 2017, “Third Year Of Shooting Salmon-Eating Cormorants, Oiling Nests:
Goal Is To Kill 2,409 Birds,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438803.aspx
CBB, September 9, 2016, “Court Allows Continued Culling Of Cormorants In
Columbia Estuary To Reduce Predation On Salmonids,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437461.aspx
August 5, 2016, “Court Hears Oral Arguments On Killing Estuary Cormorants To
Protect Juvenile Salmonids,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437255.aspx
July 1, 2016, “Plaintiffs Press Case Against Cormorant Culling In Court; 2,394
Birds Shot So Far This Year,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437040.aspx
June 17, 2016, “Is Salmon/Steelhead BiOp Driving Cormorant Culling? Not
Necessarily Says Corps” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436943.aspx
June 2, 2016, “Estuary Cormorants Abandon Nest, Eggs After 'Significant
Disturbance;' Audubon Blames Feds' Hazing,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436828.aspx
May 13, 2016, “Corps More Than Two-Thirds Complete In Killing Over 3,000
Estuary Salmonid-Eating Cormorants,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436716.aspx
April 1, 2016, “For Second Year, Corps Issued Permit To Cull Cormorants In
Lower Columbia; Allows Killing 3,216 Birds,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436360.aspx
October 2, 2015, “Corps Increases Cormorant Culling In Recent Days; Killing
Opportunities Ending Soon As Birds Disperse,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435133.aspx
August 14, 2015, “Audubon Releases Internal USFWS Report Questioning Whether
Culling Cormorants Improves Fish Survival,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434741.aspx
May 29, 2015, “Culling Cormorants Begins: Goal Is To Reduce 15,000 Breeding
Pairs To Under 6,000 by 2018,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434132.aspx
May 15, 2015, “Federal Judge Allows Corps’ Cormorant Culling Plan to Proceed In
Columbia River Estuary,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434022.aspx
April 24, 2015, “Conservation, Animal Welfare Groups File Lawsuit To Stop Plan
To Cull Estuary Cormorants,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433797.aspx
CBB, April 17, 2015, “USFWS Grants Corps One-Year Depredation Permit To Begin
Culling Columbia Estuary Cormorants,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433730.aspx
CBB, March 27, 2015, “Audubon Announces Intent to Sue Corps Over Plan To Cull
Cormorants From Columbia River Estuary,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433509.aspx
CBB, Feb. 6, 2015, “Final EIS Released On Reducing Estuary Cormorant Numbers; Proposes
Both Shooting And Egg Oiling,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433117.aspx