CHINOOK — Culling of double-crested cormorants near East Sand Island, a small island built from dredged materials in the Lower Columbia River estuary near Chinook and Ilwaco, resumed Oct. 3, after more than four months of inactivity and will continue through this month, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps suspended its culling and egg-oiling operations in the lower river in mid-May when the cormorants suddenly abandoned the island. By mid-July, the Corps said, some 15,300 cormorants were seen “loafing” on the island. By August about 23,000 were on the island and by September many were rebuilding nests and laying eggs. Still, the Corps needed to be sure the cormorant colony had been reestablished before resuming its culling operations.
Now, several hundred cormorants are loafing on the island at any given time, said Diana Fredlund, spokesperson for the Corps.
“Many of the birds are young-of-the-year juveniles and adults using the island to rest while foraging in the lower river before dispersing to wintering grounds,” she said. “Since the peak nesting season is over, the Corps is no longer counting the number of birds present on the island on a regular basis.”
Some 16 nests, as of Oct. 5, still had young birds in them that are not yet able to fly, she continued. “Most, if not all, of these nests are expected to fail due to the lateness of the season.”
The Corps has not oiled eggs in nests on the island since mid-May, Fredlund said, and no additional oiling will occur this year.
Culling is being done off East Sand Island from boats and no on-island culling is planned for the remainder of 2016. Culling will stop at the end of October, she continued.
At this late point in the nesting season, some adult cormorants have dispersed to other areas of the lower river and outer coast, while other adults and juveniles have remained in the lower estuary to forage in Baker and Chinook bays, she added.
The Corps’ Oct. 6 weekly management report says that “In order to meet the Corps’ year two management objectives and remain on track to meet NOAA Fisheries’ Biological Opinion guidelines by 2018, the Corps will cull up to 720 adult double-crested cormorants in October.”
Between Oct. 3 and 6, the Corps culled 290 cormorants and culled an additional 239 through Oct. 13. That brings the total for 2016 to 2,923 double-crested cormorants. Two Brandt cormorants had been shot through Oct. 13, bringing the total to four for the year and no Pelagic cormorants have been killed. One has been shot this year. No cormorant nests on the island were oiled during this period. A total of 1,092 have been oiled this year.
A challenge to the Corps’ cormorant management plan was mounted last year by the Audubon Society of Portland in the U.S. District Court of Oregon. However, Judge Michael H. Simon decided that litigation in early September in favor of the Corps and other federal defendants — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Wildlife Services, the federal agency that carries out the culling and egg oiling in the field.
Although the Court found that the Corps and the Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act “by failing properly to consider reasonable alternatives in developing the management plan for Double-crested cormorants,” it left the Corps’ cormorant management plan in place as it plays out this year and over the next two years of a four-year operation.