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Columbia River dilemma: Kill birds to save fish?

  • Associated Press
  • August 1, 2014 - 6:10 PM

ASTORIA, Ore. — Dredging decades ago to aid Columbia River shippers also helped seabirds known as double-crested cormorants by creating a flat, sandy island ideal for nesting and feeding on young salmon and steelhead headed for the Pacific Ocean.

Now, the population of the cormorants on East Sand Island has burgeoned from about 100 breeding pairs to 14,900 of the pairs, and a federal agency wants to have thousands of the seabirds shot to protect the fish, including some that are protected and deemed endangered.

At a recent open house held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the proposal, Tommy Huntington of Cannon Beach acknowledged that anglers feel strongly about fish runs being depleted but expressed consternation at the plan to shoot the birds.

"I can't believe in this day and age we can't come up with an alternative solution to killing things," he said. "You have to kill one to save the other one? It doesn't make any sense."

The birds eat lots of endangered wild fish, as well as hatchery stocks — an estimated 11 million a year — mainly in May as the young fish head for their years in the ocean.

In June the engineers released its plan to kill 16,000 of the birds. A public comment period has been extended to Aug. 19.

The agency manages hydropower dams and dredges the Columbia River. It is required by the Endangered Species Act to come up with a management plan to control the seabird population.

The corps presented four options — three that didn't call for killing any birds and the one it calls the preferred option.

"We feel it's the one that gives us the most certainty of achieving the requirements that have been put upon us," said Joyce Casey, chief of the agency's environmental resources branch in Portland. "It's the most cost effective and it's the one that has the best likelihood of not moving the problem somewhere else."

She said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would issue permits for the shooting, which would be carried out by the Wildlife Services agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The proposed plan also includes land- and boat-based hazing and taking a limited amount of eggs.

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