PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - The federal government has plans to kill nearly 11,000 double crested cormorants on a small Oregon island over four years in an effort to save embattled salmon, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Friday.
The plan, in the form of a final Environmental Impact Statement, is under review. If it gets final approval, state agriculture workers could be shooting birds and oiling nests, a process used to keep chicks from hatching, by spring.
The plan is preferred over another alternative that calls for the killing of 18,000 birds by 2018, U.S. Army Corps spokeswoman Diana Fredlund said.
“This is a difficult situation,” she said. “We are trying to balance the salmon and steelhead vs. the birds. It’s very difficult to find the right answer and so it’s taken us a long time. We’ve had a lot of experts working on it.”
The corps also looked at alternatives that included hazing the birds to get them off the island, but Fredlund said that would just shift the problem elsewhere.
“We don’t want to just shoot them off the island and let them be somebody else’s problem. This is a regional problem,” she said.
The corps’ action came after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a Biological Opinion last year, calling for a decrease of the bird population from about 13,000 breeding pairs now to just under 6,000 or fewer by 2018.
Federal officials say the birds are eating the juvenile salmon and putting the fish population at risk. Many juvenile salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
But the Audubon Society of Portland says the real threat to the salmon population is habitat loss, fish hatcheries and dams.
“We feel the birds are being scapegoated while the primary causes of salmon decline are not being adequately addressed,” sad Bob Sallinger, the local Audubon Society’s conservation director. “Although it’s been reduced, the level of proposed take is still really historic and horrific.”
Sallinger said the society plans to fight the corps’ decision, which could be finalized as early as mid-March, and was prepared to go to court to try to stop it.
In addition to killing thousands of the birds over four years, the plan calls for the destruction of up to 26,000 nests.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham