Portland - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a draft environmental assessment on an interim plan to maintain about six acres of Caspian tern habitat on East Sand Island, near Chinook.

Work would begin in late March and take about five days. East Sand Island serves as the summer nesting grounds for about 10,000 pair of Caspian terns. The birds begin arriving in late March and early April.

Members of the public and interested agencies and organizations are invited to review and comment on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' draft environmental assessment. Comments providing new information on the proposed actions and environmental impacts will be considered by the Corps prior to initiating action.

Comments on the document may be directed to Lynne Hamilton, Environmental Resources Branch, Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at (503) 808-4772, or mailed to: District Engineer, Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer District, Portland, Attn: Lynne Hamilton, CENWP-PM-E, P.O. Box 2946, Portland, Ore., 97208-2946. The document is available on the Internet at www.nwp.usace.army.mil/pm/e/. Requests for a copy of the document may be made by calling (503) 808-4761.

Comments must be postmarked by Jan. 17, and should reference Public Notice Number CENWP-PM-E-02-11, "Caspian Tern Interim Management Plan FY 2003-2004 and Pile Dike Excluder Maintenance To Discourage Cormorant Use."

The action proposed by the Corps is similar to the actions taken by the agency prior to the 2002 nesting season. The proposed interim actions are directed by an April 2002 court settlement agreement. The agreement also requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a long-term management plan and associated Environmental Impact Statement for Caspian tern management in the Columbia River estuary, with a Record of Decision by Feb. 28, 2005. The Service also is preparing a feasibility study of potential Caspian tern nesting sites in the Pacific Northwest.

Specific activities include: removing vegetation from the six-acre habitat area through the use of herbicides and mechanical processes, grading the site and placing about 3,200 cubic yards of sand onto the site. Additionally, researchers with Oregon State University, the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission and Real Time Research will employ decoys and recorded bird calls at the East Sand Island site. Terns nest only on bare sand with an unobstructed view of the water.

The Corps' planned actions on Rice, Miller Sands Spit and Pillar Rock islands include active harassment of terns, if necessary, to dissuade nesting activities. Habitat alteration, silt fencing and flagging may be used to minimize nesting at these locations. Most of the previous tern nesting site on Rice Island is now vegetated. Any active harassment activities will stop once egg laying begins.

In addition to efforts to maintain suitable habitat for terns, the Corps also will maintain bird excluders on pile dikes in the lower Columbia River. The excluders are designed to keep double-crested cormorants from resting on the pilings.

Research on the Columbia River population of Caspian terns began in 1996 to better understand the birds' impact on out-migrating salmonids. Researchers eventually estimated the terns were consuming between 5.9 million to 15.7 million juvenile salmon and steelhead near the Rice Island colony site. To respond to the situation, a group of federal, state, university and private agencies collaborated on a plan to relocate the birds to East Sand Island, near the mouth of the Columbia River, where a wider variety of prey fish would be available to the terns. The first relocation effort took place in 1999.

The Columbia River estuary colony had relocated to East Sand Island by 2001. About 9,900 breeding pairs of Caspian terns nested on the managed site in 2002.

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