ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to remove 500 eggs from double-crested cormorant nests as part of a long-term management plan to protect juvenile salmon being eaten by the cormorants in the Columbia River.
The Corps is in the fourth year of a five-year plan to cut the cormorant population on East Sand Island at the river’s mouth from more than 14,000 breeding pairs to no more than 5,380 to 5,939 birds to reduce pressure on fish listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Double-crested cormorants are not listed under the federal Endangered Species Act but have federal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The colony on the island at one point was believed to account for more than 40 percent of the entire Western population of the double-crested cormorant, which is one of three types of cormorant that frequents the northern Oregon coast.
It also plans to disturb breeding pairs on East Sand Island to reduce the colony’s population, The Daily Astorian reported Friday.
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The Corps has shot more than 5,000 adult birds and destroyed more than 6,000 nests in the last three years by spraying them with oil.
The federal agency does not plan to kill any adult cormorants this year, but it has asked permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a permit to take the eggs, The Daily Astorian reported Friday. It also wants to disturb — or “haze”— breeding pairs to reduce the colony’s population.
There were approximately 5,000 to 6,000 individual double-crested cormorants on the island at the end of the nesting season last year, Army Corps spokesman Rick Hargrave told the newspaper.
Last year, nesting activity was interrupted when thousands of birds abandoned the island and nests full of eggs for much of the season. A similar situation happened in 2016.
The Corps has said the birds dispersed because of bald eagles that were patrolling East Sand Island but conservationists believe that the cormorant killings and the destruction of nests dispersed the birds.
The Audubon Society of Portland wants the Corps and its agency partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to study why the cormorants left their nests before making any decisions about removing eggs.
“It is simply not credible for the agencies to ignore the fact that the 2016 colony collapse, in which more than 16,000 cormorants abandoned their nests in a single day, followed weeks of relentless shooting of adult birds and came days after federal agents initiated egg oiling and nest destruction activities in the colony,” Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society, wrote in a March letter.
The agency’s actions have “precipitated the collapse of the largest double-crested cormorant colony in the world,” he added.
The birds arrive at the island in late March or April and leave in the fall.
A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the cormorant species in question. It is the double-crested cormorant.
Information from: The Daily Astorian, http://www.dailyastorian.com