August 18, 2014

Killing 16,000 double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River estuary puts birds at serious risk with no real benefit to salmon

Karuna Law today submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) on its draft Environmental Impact Statement (“Draft EIS”) for the controversial planned killing of some 16,000 double-crested cormorants at East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary. We strongly oppose the lethal “management plan” proposed by the Corps, which would slaughter approximately 61% of these marine birds.

The cormorant colony at East Sand Island represents about 41% of the western population of around 29,240 breeding pairs in British Columbia and all U.S. states west of the Continental Divide. The Corps asserts that killing thousands, mostly by shooting them, is needed to improve the meager survival rate of juvenile salmon and steelhead passing into the estuary through the federal Columbia River power system’s numerous dams. But studies show that even if every cormorant was eliminated from East Sand Island, fish survival would improve by less than 2% at best.

The Draft EIS is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). EISs are generally prepared for projects that the proposing agency views as having significant prospective environmental impacts. In today’s comments, Karuna Law noted that the Corps failed to adequately consider alternatives to the proposed action as NEPA requires. We stressed that an environmentally and ethically responsible approach to salmon restoration in the estuary should not be based on a determination to eliminate a majority of the cormorant’s Western Population.

August 19, 2014, marks the end of the official comment period on the Draft EIS. The period was extended at the request of the Portland Audubon Society, which also opposes the planned killing. The Corps will now consider comments received. Because additional data is needed to properly evaluate nonlethal alternatives to the planned killing, the Corps should gather and analyze it. A second draft EIS should then be released for public review and comment, but the Corps may decide to continue directly to a final EIS. We are following this issue closely.

Our comments are available here.

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