Video Highlights Federal Agencies' Relentless Slaughter of Oregon Cormorants

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PORTLAND, Ore.— Audubon Society of Portland and the Center for Biological Diversity are pleased to announce the release of the film Scapegoat: The Cormorants of East Sand Island, by Portland filmmaker Trip Jennings. The film documents the relentless slaughter of the world’s largest double-crested cormorant colony, found at East Sand Island in the Columbia River.

With the colony at the brink of collapse, the video calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cease all killing and harassment of these birds.

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East Sand Island was once home to the world’s largest colony of double-crested cormorants, representing more than 40 percent of the entire population in the western United States. However, over the past four years the Army Corps of Engineers, acting under permits issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, has waged a relentless war on this colony in a misguided and inhumane effort to protect endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River.

Federal agents have shot more than 5,000 cormorants out of the sky and destroyed more than 6,000 active cormorant nests. The relentless killing has put the colony on the brink of collapse. In 2016 more than 16,000 cormorants abandoned their active nests in a single day. In 2017 only a few hundred returned to East Sand Island.

The impact to the colony went beyond what was allowed under the Fish and Wildlife Service’s permits and has placed the entire western population of double-crested cormorants at risk. By causing thousands of the birds to move farther up the Columbia River, the agencies have increased the risk to endangered fish, as federal agency models show displaced cormorants would eat far more salmon than if they have been left at East Sand Island.

Despite the colony collapses in 2016 and 2017, the Army Corps has applied for permits to resume entering the cormorant colony to destroy active nests in 2018 if the birds return to the island. The agency also plans to modify the cormorant nesting habitat on East Sand Island to restrict nesting access for cormorants. The Army Corps has indicated it will not seek permits to shoot adult cormorants in 2018.

“We’re pleased the U.S. Army Corps has indicated it will stop shooting adult cormorants in 2018, but that doesn’t go nearly far enough,” said Portland Audubon Conservation Director Bob Sallinger. “The relentless killing and persecution of these cormorants over the past three years has put the world’s largest colony of cormorants at risk of permanent collapse and the entire western population of double-crested cormorants at risk. The agencies must stop all nest destruction, habitat modification and harassment at this colony and allow the colony to recover.”

While the agencies claim this project protects federally listed salmon, it is nothing more than a diversion from the real cause of salmon decline: the federal hydropower system. In a report that was hidden from the public until a court order forced its release, Fish and Wildlife Service fish biologists concluded that killing cormorants would do nothing to help recover salmon.

Five times in the last 20 years, federal courts have rejected federal agency plans for recovering salmon in the Columbia Basin because of their failure to adequately address the dams. Just this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged the harm dams cause to listed salmon and steelhead, agreeing that dams on the Columbia River must release additional water to help the endangered fish.

“After watching this video, my heart aches for all the birds that have needlessly suffered and died,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center. “The agency’s own analysis makes clear that its persecution of cormorants is doing nothing to help endangered fish. It needs to stop now.”

Audubon Society of Portland and the Center call upon the federal agencies to stop all cormorant-related killing, nest destruction, harassment and habitat modification on East Sand Island and to conduct a full review of how this project failed so badly.

The conservationists are also asking the agencies to stop scapegoating cormorants for salmon declines in the Columbia River and instead focus on the federal hydropower system. Specifically, the groups ask for increasing spill over the Columbia River and removal of four obsolete dams on the Snake River, which should be considered when the agencies develop a new environmental impact statement and biological opinion for addressing salmon declines in the Columbia River system.

“The agencies have created a worst-case scenario,” said Sallinger. “They have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, put the entire western population of double-crested cormorants at risk and increased the risk to salmon. It is time to stop the scapegoating and focus on the real cause of salmon decline, the dams.”

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