Conservation Column: Help Stop the Cormorant Killings

Fom Portland Audubon: East Sand Island was once the largest Double-crested Cormorant colony in the world, home to more than 28,000 cormorants representing 40 percent of the entire population west of the Rocky Mountains. However, for the past three years, federal agencies have been waging a relentless and inhumane war on Double-crested Cormorants, shooting thousands of the birds out of the sky with shotguns and destroying their active nests. More than 5,000 cormorants have been shot, and more than 6,000 nests have been destroyed. Because of this, the world’s largest colony of Double-crested Cormorants has collapsed. The birds abandoned the colony at the peak of nesting season in 2016, and only a couple hundred birds returned to nest in 2017.  

The collapse of the entire colony went far beyond what was allowed under the Corps permits and puts the entire western population of Double-crested Cormorants at risk. Yet, the US Army Corps has applied for permits to continue destroying cormorant nests on East Sand Island if the birds return in 2018, and has plans to modify their habitat to limit nesting in the future. This kind of activity could precipitate another colony collapse in 2018.

The agencies claim that the killing is necessary to protect federally listed salmon. However, killing of cormorants is nothing more than a diversion from the real cause of salmon decline, the federal hydropower system. In fact, US Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Biologists produced a secret report which concluded that killing cormorants at East Sand Island will do nothing to help recover salmon. From the report: “The data indicate that efforts to reduce predation by Double-crested cormorants are expected to result in no changes or benefits to these fish populations in terms of increasing adult return or abundance.”

Five times in the last twenty years, Federal Courts have rejected US Army Corps Columbia River Salmon Plans due to the fact that they have inadequately addressed the impacts from the dams.

Take Action:  Urge the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the scapegoating of cormorants on East Sand Island. The agencies should instead focus on the real causes of salmon decline, the federal hydropower system, by increasing flows over dams on the Columbia River and removing four obsolete dams on the Snake River. Sign on to a letter to agency officials and your legislators: portlandaudubon.salsalabs.org/dccovideo/index.html

Check out this video on the issue: youtube.com/watch?v=qL4xecmqIkg&feature=youtu.be

Species information:  Double-crested cormorants are gregarious birds that nest in colonies in the spring. After the male attracts a female by showing off bright colors around the neck and eyes, the pair works together to build the nest. The male gathers most of the nesting material, and the female builds the nest. Both parents bring food to the nestlings. You may see cormorants “wing-spreading” while perched on a log or rock. This is thought to help dry out their feathers. Cormorants have less preen oil than ducks, so they take on more water.  Scientists hypothesize that this is to help the birds ride low in the water and forage under water. The birds catch a wide variety of different prey species.