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Help Stop Cormorant Cull in Oregon

800px-Cormorant,_Double-crested_LOaCormorants too often get a unfair rap, unfairly maligned by fishermen who blame them for collapsing fish stocks and by waterfront residents who see their congregations as smelly or menacing. Maybe it’s only among birders that these admittedly ungainly and conventionally unattractive birds get their proper due. Where others see trouble, we see adept fishers. Where others see whitewashed seaside cliffs, we see evidence of a robust fishery. And where policy-makers too often see the cause of declining game fish populations, we see a bird blamed for pollution, habitat loss, and poor management of waterways.

It’s happening again in Oregon, this time on East Seal Island in the Lower Columbia River estuary. In a story we’ve heard before, Double-crested Cormorants are being blamed for the declining populations of endangered salmon, with the Army Corp of Engineers planning on culling some 16,000 birds from the colony there. It’s a significant proportion of the breeding population in the western United States. While the cormorants there are no doubt helping themselves to salmon that run up the Columbia River, as they have for millennia, the fish populations are far more impacted by factors not related to cormorant predation.

Our friends at National Audubon have put together a petition to urge the Corp to hold off on the cull until such time that the methods for non-lethal, evidence based management can be fully examined (called Alternative A, here).

Please consider signing the petition. The science behind the effectiveness of these culls is far from settled, and while Double-crested Cormorants are not an endangered species by any means, the precedent of pursuing lethal management of native wildlife is one that should only be considered carefully. Thanks for your help!

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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  • Bruce Berman

    Hi Nate, I have two passions in life, birding and fly fishing, especially for anadromous fish. If I recall correctly, when the young salmon and steelhead smolts head out to the ocean en masse, tens of thousands of birds await them and feed on hundreds of thousands of fish. Before humans impacted the fisheries by erecting dams which effectively cut off most of the spawning tributaries to anadromous fish, this was nature’s way, and species were in balance. But as we decimate our fisheries, what are our options? Protected sea lions, no longer naturally culled by Orcas as they once were, have experienced an exploding population. They also impact our fisheries. Nature is out of balance. I’d rather sign a petition limiting family size.

    • Bob Smith

      Maybe we should do that too… fix the real problem!

  • Mike Patterson

    The location is EAST SAND ISLAND and even though it is within rock throwing distance from the Washington side of the Columbia it is in Oregon because Oregon became a state first and claimed most of the river…

    The cormorant colony is, according to the folks doing the monitoring, the largest north of Mexico. The CASPIAN TERN colony there is reportedly the largest in the world. There are also 15,000 summering BROWN PELICANS and up river 15 miles a newly established breeding colony of AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS. That’s a lot of piscivores in a spot that historically had none of these species.

    Dredge-spoiling, jetty building and loss of habitat elsewhere in the ranges of these species have driven them all to the Mouth of the Columbia River.

    There is no part of this issue that cannot be placed in the humans-are-at-fault box cubby-hole. The Columbia River dams take out about 60% of the salmon smolt heading off to sea. Hatchery fish are trained in the hatcheries to swim to the surface and look for food. Jetties, breakwaters and dredge spoil island produce loafing grounds where none existed before the river went under management for commercial use. Harassment and habitat loss elsewhere push species to the very few remaining locations where they can survive.

    The easy solution, the one that has worked elsewhere, is to blame the birds and harass them until they go away. Then the shipping industry, the fishing industry (including sport fisheries), the electric power companies, agribusiness and the Army Corps of Engineers won’t have to change any of there operational behaviors.

    There are too many cormorants at the Mouth of the Columbia River. These kinds of concentrations are ecologically perilous to the species involved. Shooting them is not, however, the best ecological fix. Re-distribution is. But that would require putting these birds back into those other places where we’ve worked so hard to run them off.

    So you know how well the ecological plan is going to go over…

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