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Corps of Engineers to cull Oregon cormorants preying on endangered salmon

"We’re definitely prepared to litigate and seek an injunction," said Bob Sallinger, a critic of the Corps' plan.

By Brooks Hays
Corps of Engineers to cull Oregon cormorants preying on endangered salmon
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to kill 11,000 cormorants to protect endangered fish in Oregon. File Photo by UPI/Michael Bush. | License Photo

PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving ahead with a plan to cut the a population of double-crested cormorants on Oregon's East Sand Island in half. Corps officials say they local bird population has grown too large and is contributing to the loss of endangered juvenile salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River.

The updated strategy is a slightly less aggressive than the originally drafted management plan. In its latest form, the plan calls for the culling of some 11,000 birds. The cormorants would be shot with shotguns. If finalized, the plan will also see oil poured on the nests of some 26,000 birds, so that eggs can't be hatched. The ultimate goal is to reduce the size of the current colony by 57 percent.

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Biologists with the Corps say the cormorant population on the island has exploded over the last two decades, and that the birds consume 7 percent of all the juvenile salmon and trout that travel into the Pacific every year after being hatched upstream.

Not surprisingly, the Audubon Society is less than thrilled with the new plan. Roughly 152,000 public comments were filed in response to Corps' draft published last summer. Federal officials estimate that 149,000 of them were filed as a part of the effort of two bird advocacy campaigns -- those of the Audubon Society of Portland and Care2.

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Environmentalists said then that more could be done to find alternatives for protecting the endangered fish, and they're unlikely to be swayed by the Corps' decision to kill 11,000 birds instead of 18,000.

"We're definitely prepared to litigate and seek an injunction," Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, told the Daily Astorian. "All the concerns we raised several months ago are still in place."

Sallinger points out that East Sand Island cormorant population is one of the few places the species is doing well.

"We're talking about killing 15 percent of the population west of the Rocky Mountains," Sallinger told Oregon Live. "That level of lethal control is absolutely horrific."

The plan will go through another round of public comments before being finalized. Sallinger says his organization will have to act fast if they wish to stall the plan in court.

The controversy is somewhat unusual in that it doesn't simply pit conservationists against economic and political actors, but also conservationists against conservationists. Those who have campaigned and worked tirelessly to improve the plight of salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest aren't necessarily happy to see the Corps back off their original plan.

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"There's been a lot of work done to get fish passage projects at the dams," said Blaine Parker, a spokesperson for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "To have all that work done, and then have those fish run into yet another obstacle once they reach saltwater, is a tremendous loss."

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