Sea lions are meanwhile killed upstream
PORTLAND, Oregon––Hiring USDA Wildlife Services to kill double-crested cormorants near the mouth of the Columbia River, while other agencies killed sea lions beneath the Bonneville Dam, nominally to protect chinook salmon runs on behalf of sport fishers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on May 19, 2016 admitted that “as many as 16,000 adult birds” in the East Sand Island nesting colony left their eggs behind to be eaten by predators including eagles, seagulls and crows.”
The Corps of Engineers claimed, however, that the cormorant nesting colony abandonment was a mystery, reported Cassandra Profit of Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“We shot at them, but we don’t know why they left”
“The disturbance resulted in nest abandonment and the loss of all the cormorants eggs to avian predators like seagulls, eagles and crows,” acknowledged U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Amy Echols, but added, “We don’t know yet what the cause of the disturbance was.”
“No cormorants in the colony”
Oregon State University ornithologist Dan Roby confirmed to Profit, after doing an aerial survey, that “There were absolutely no cormorants anywhere in the colony. It’s a real mystery for us,” Roby added. “It actually amazes me that any kind of disturbance––even people going on the island if that’s what happened––could cause all the birds to leave their nests with eggs and then gather on the shoreline as if they were afraid to go back to their nests. It’s certainly unprecedented in all the years we were out there working on that cormorant colony.”
Eventually about 4,000 cormorants returned to East Sand Island, but not to their ruined nests.
“Weeks of intense killing”
“The complete collapse of the colony was preceded by weeks of intense killing and harassment of cormorants on and around East Sand Island,” Audubon Society of Portland conservation director Bob Sallinger charged in a media release, “with federal agents killing nearly 2,400 birds with shotguns and destroying more than 1,000 cormorant nests.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has temporarily suspended the slaughter of these birds while it investigates the colony failure,” Salinger acknowledged, “but it has not ruled out killing more birds this season. Audubon Society of Portland is calling for a permanent end to the senseless slaughter of these birds and a comprehensive, independent investigation of the federal agencies’ actions related to the killing program at East Sand Island.”
“Recklessly & relentlessly slaughtered”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hire USDA Wildlife Services to kill 3,114 double-crested cormorants in spring 2016, along with 93 Brandt’s cormorants and nine pelagic cormorants, who are not targeted species but are lookalikes for the species that are targeted. “Agents can also destroy 5,247 cormorant nests by slathering eggs in corn oil to suffocate the embryos within,” Salinger summarized.
“The federal agencies recklessly and relentlessly slaughtered these birds without scientific justification, and created conditions under which complete collapse of the largest double-crested cormorant colony in the world was a potential outcome,” Sallinger continued.
“The agencies are now trying to scapegoat eagles for the collapse of the cormorant colony, just as they scapegoat cormorants for salmon declines,” Sallinger added.
“The agencies have turned East Sand Island into a killing ground and put the birds under tremendous stress. Nobody should be surprised that the colony failed under these conditions.
“Many groups, including Portland Audubon, raised exactly this concern when they submitted comments on the federal agencies’ cormorant killing plan,” Sallinger recalled. “The agencies’ original goal of killing 15% of the entire population of double-crested cormorants west of the Rocky Mountains would have driven cormorant populations below levels defined as sustainable.
“Agencies ignored own experts”
“It was later discovered in documents, obtained under court order,” Sallinger added, “that the agencies also ignored and hid their own experts’ analysis which determined that killing cormorants would provide no benefit to the salmon it was supposed to protect.”
“In April 2016,” Sallinger noted, “a federal court in Washington D.C. found that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cormorant killing program in the Eastern U.S. , responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of cormorants, broke the law by failing to consider any options other than lethal control and by failing to demonstrate that killing cormorants delivered any appreciable benefits to the fish it was meant to protect.
Five federal court losses
“In May 2016, a federal court in Oregon rejected the federal agencies’ Columbia River Salmon Plan, finding that the agencies had failed to address the primary cause of salmon decline, the federal hydropower system, and instead have squandered billions of taxpayer dollars on salmon recovery strategies that are not working. The agencies have lost five times in federal court in the past 20 years, over their ongoing failure to address the dams,” fumed Sallinger.
(See also “Cormorant killers shoot the bird to D.C. judicial ruling.”)
“These agencies have done everything possible to limit accountability and transparency in this killing program,” Sallinger finished, mentioning that they had “terminated 18 years of independent monitoring of the East Sand Island cormorant colony by the Oregon State University Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit just prior to the onset of lethal control, refused to allow the media or other independent observers to witness their killing program, and established a 500-yard exclusion zone around their boats when public interest groups tried to observe the lethal control program.
“Failed to disclose information”
“Even as recently as May 17, when conservation and animal welfare groups held a rally to oppose the killing, federal agencies were already aware of the colony failure,” Sallinger said, but “failed to disclose this information and instead explicitly stated their intent to continue killing cormorants.”
Awaiting the outcome of a Federal Court lawsuit filed seeking to stop the cormorant killing, the Audubon Society of Portland has avoided use of potentially confrontational protest and surveillance tactics in spring 2016, as have co-plaintiffs Friends of Animals, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Wildlife Center of the North Coast.
SHARK in the water
But Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, assisted by Last Chance for Animals, spent three weeks on the water near East Sand Island in April and May 2016, documenting the cormorant massacre.
On May 18, 2016 SHARK “released a video exposing how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the U.S. Coast Guard are working together to keep the public from witnessing what is happening to animals held in public trust, on public waters, with our money,” announced SHARK cofounder Steve Hindi.
Sued over exclusionary zone
SHARK also filed a Federal Court lawsuit alleging that USDA Wildlife Services violated SHARK’s First Amendment rights by declaring the 500-yard “exclusionary zone” around East Sand Island and the boat used by the Wildlife Services gunners.
“Wildlife Services didn’t seek the zone a year ago when SHARK wasn’t there,” Hindi said, “and had asked for a 1,000 yard zone this year.”
Despite Coast Guard enforcement of the exclusionary zone on behalf of USDA Wildlife Services, SHARK was able to get extensive video of the cormorant killing using some of the most powerful lenses ever deployed by animal advocates.
47 sea lions killed at Bonneville Dam
While USDA Wildlife Services killed cormorants by the thousand at East Sand Island, upstream at the Bonneville Dam the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish & Wildlife killed 47 California sea lions and identified another 14 who “could also be captured and killed in the future,” reported the Long Beach, Washington Chinook Observer.
The Chinook Observer cited a May 2, 2016 report filed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, posted at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/SeaLion/.
“This is not a new program to rid the river of the sea lions,” the Chinook Observer observer explained. “The Oregon Department of Fish & Widlife and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife have been capturing and killing California sea lions since 2012 when they, along with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, received a letter of authorization from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to begin removing and killing the sea lions. They initially asked for authorization in 2008, but a challenge by the Humane Society of the United States delayed the authorization until March 2012.”
Five more years
Initially describing killing sea lions as a short-term emergency measure to protect declining salmon runs, the state agencies in January 2016 asked the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to authorize killing sea lions for five more years.
In the first four years of the original authorization, the Oregon Department of Fish & Widlife and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife killed 85 California sea lions, 32 of them in 2015 alone, and transferred fifteen more sea lions to zoos and aquariums.
“Seven more died during trapping and handling,” said the Chinook Observer.