US Army Corps Begins 2016 Cormorant Slaughter

US Army Corps resumes killing cormorants despite federal court’s hope to rule on the legality of the lethal control program before the killing began in 2016


On Wednesday April 7, the US Army Corps and USDA Wildlife Services began shooting Double-crested Cormorants near East Sand Island. Federal agents in boats are using shotguns to shoot birds out of the sky as they fly and forage in the Columbia River Estuary. Conservation groups have expressed deep disappointment that the Federal Government would initiate the 2016 killing season despite the fact that the federal court has indicated that it hoped to rule on the legality of the lethal control program before the killing began in 2016.

“It is very troubling that the Federal Government would begin killing birds knowing that the courts are likely to rule on the legality of the program within a matter of days or weeks,” said Stephen Wells, Executive Director of Animal Legal Defense Fund. “It demonstrates the degree to which the government remains fixated on scapegoating the birds regardless of any other factors. Federal agencies ignored their own science as well as overwhelming public opposition to this mass killing, so sadly it comes as no surprise that they would also ignore the legal process.”

The killing also comes just a week after the federal government suffered a monumental loss in litigation over its cormorant killing program in the eastern United States. A federal district court in Washington, D.C. struck down the analyses used by the federal government to justify killing tens of thousands of cormorants annually east of the Mississippi. Notably, the court found that the government failed to consider alternatives other than its preferred lethal control strategy and that the government failed to demonstrate that killing cormorants provided any appreciable benefit to the fish that the killing was meant to protect. These are the same issues that plaintiffs have raised in litigation opposing the lethal control program at East Sand Island. Further, the federal agencies killing cormorants in the Columbia Estuary point to the same management plan rejected by the D.C. court as the foundational plan underpinning the mass killing at East Sand Island.

“We have documented problems here in the Northwest very similar to those cited by the court in halting cormorant killings in the eastern U.S.,” said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for Bird Alliance of Oregon. “Yet the government is going ahead with plans to shoot thousands of birds in the Columbia Estuary without waiting for a decision on whether its conduct is lawful. The government is already guilty of senseless, illegal slaughter of tens of thousands of cormorants in the east; moving forward with killing cormorants in the west under these circumstances is unconscionable.”

Under their current permits, the Corps will be allowed to kill 3,114 Double-crested Cormorants, 93 Brant’s Cormorants and 9 Pelagic Cormorants and destroy 5,247 Double-crested Cormorant nests at East Sand Island during 2016. During 2015, the Corps killed over 1,700 birds and destroyed more than 5,000 nests. The Corps ultimate goal is to kill upwards of 15% of the entire population of Double-crested Cormorants west of the Rocky Mountains. However, in arguments filed with a federal district court in Portland, groups challenging the cormorant killing program pointed to agency documents concluding that drastically reducing the East Sand Island cormorant colony may produce little or no progress toward increasing runs of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin.

Bird Alliance of Oregon, Friends of Animals, Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlife Center of the North Coast and Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps and USDA Wildlife Services in 2015 to stop the slaughter at East Sand Island. They are represented by Earthrise Law Center. The litigation is pending.

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Founded in 1902, Bird Alliance of Oregon is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the nation. It promotes the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats through its conservation and environmental education programs, its 150-acre Nature Sanctuary and Nature Store in northwest Portland, and its Wildlife Care Center.

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