Bird Hazing in the Columbia Basin

dead-bird-dubai-cormAs spring turns into summer, juvenile salmon will once again begin their journey down the Columbia River towards the ocean. A once flourishing species, the young salmon are now more in danger of extinction than ever, and the federal government has taken action for the second year in a row to ensure that these little fish will be protected from predatory birds whilst completing their arduous journey.

In the first week of April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permission to begin hazing and culling cormorants that normally feed on juvenile salmon in the Lower Columbia River estuary that opens to the Pacific Ocean.

A permit granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Army Corps last year—renewed this spring and valid until January 2017—allows the Corps to kill approximately 3,000 double-crested cormorants as well as nearly a hundred of two similar cormorant species, and to destroy just over 5,000 cormorant nests.

Wildlife Services, a division of the USDA and separate from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, has been contracted by the Army Corps to destroy the aforementioned birds. For the over 10,000 remaining breeding pairs of birds in the area that the Army Corps does not plan to kill, Wildlife Services has implemented a plan in which cormorants will be sprayed with corn oil, which will prevent eggs from hatching.

According to the 2016 Fish Passage Plan published on March 1 by the Northwest Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, other methods of hazing used to decrease the avian population in the lower Columbia Basin and additional areas where juvenile salmon are in danger from bird predation, such as dams, include propane and water cannons, fake bird distress calls, pyrotechnics, and lasers.

Some organizations in Oregon do not support these methods of deterring and killing birds to improve the survival of salmon. Last year, the Audubon Society of Portland, along with four other animal welfare groups, sued the Army Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife for their decision. However, after going through trial, the lawsuit—intended to end avian culling of the Oregon and Washington cormorant population—was denied.

In the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s record of their latest decision, published a month ago, a plan is described that favors avian habitat management and egg destruction over outright genocide.

In addition to explaining that only a small number of birds will be killed, U.S. Fish and Wildlife clarifies that the cormorant population is in no way endangered. According to officials from the organization’s Migratory Birds and Habitat Program, the area of the Columbia Basin where birds will be hazed and killed comprises one of the largest colonies of the cormorant species in the entire world.

The bird depredation permit renewal was issued on March 18,  setting the date for hazing and hunting to begin on April 6. It is currently underway.

By Kiki Genoa