With just 248 double-crested cormorants culled
by federal hunters at East Sand Island in the lower Columbia River estuary, the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is declaring the operation over for the year.
In the most recent posted management timeline
update (www.nwp.usace.army.mil/environment/cormorants/timeline), September 13, the Corps said it observed about 1,500
double-crested and 3,000 Brandt’s cormorants “loafing” on the western part of
the island. It also reported 140 to 150 active double-crested cormorant nests,
as well as chicks of both species about two to three weeks old.
The Corps was permitted in 2017 by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service to cull 2,408 double-crested cormorants and destroy
up to 4,058 of the cormorants’ nests in order to “reduce the overall population
of the colony to a number that represents an acceptable level of predation on
juvenile salmonids,” the Corps’ management team said in September.
However, culling, harassing and egg oiling of
the birds and their nests was suspended by Wildlife Services, the Corps’
contractor, April 27 and has not resumed.
“We will not resume culling this year,” said
Karim Delgado, public affairs specialist for the Corps. “As outlined in our
environmental impact statement, the number of double-crested cormorants at East
Sand Island must reach at least 90 percent of the expected post-culling
abundance for 2017 before culling can continue. Because conditions have held
such that the population has remained under that 90 percent threshold, culling
will remain suspended for the rest of the year.”
In June, the Corps said that as many as 40
eagles harassed the sea birds, keeping them from nesting on the island and
driving them to other areas, such as local bridges, as well as Willapa Bay and
This is the third year of culling for the
Corps and the second year in a row that the birds have been late to nesting,
requiring the Corps to suspend its operations designed to reduce the number of
breeding pairs in the lower river. Cormorants feed on juvenile salmon and
steelhead, some of which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Last year culling was suspended in mid-May and
Wildlife Services didn’t resume until October 3. By mid-July last year some
15,300 cormorants were seen “loafing” on the island. By August about 23,000
were on the island and by September many were rebuilding nests and laying eggs.
Still, the agency managed to cull nearly 3,000 of the cormorants in 2016,
almost all of those by the end of October.
Beyond 2018, the goal is to support a local
colony of double-crested cormorants while minimizing the potential for
expansion to levels that would hurt the chances of survival for salmonids
protected under the ESA, the Corps says.
That would mean a cormorant colony at East Sand
Island of between 5,380 and 5,939 breeding pairs, while modifying the island so
that it would support the smaller colony.
--CBB, September 22, 2017, “Estuary Cormorants
Nesting In Low Numbers; Corps Unsure If Culling Will Resume Before Season
--CBB, August 11, 2017, “Due To Low Numbers Of
Estuary Cormorants Showing Nesting Activity, Culling Remains Suspended,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439412.aspx
--CBB, July 7, 2017, “Corps Continues
Suspension Of Culling Salmon-Eating Cormorants In Estuary,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439223.aspx
--CBB, June 16, 2017, “With Cormorant Nesting
On East Sand Island Stalled, Boat-Based Shooting Of Birds Suspended,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439105.aspx
--CBB, 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