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East Sand Island

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to kill nearly 11,000 Double-crested Cormorants on East Sand Island.

Double-crested Cormorant - Jim Cruce
Double-crested Cormorant - Jim Cruce

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to kill nearly 11,000 Double-crested Cormorants and destroy more than 26,000 Double-crested Cormorant nests on East Sand Island, located at the mouth of the Columbia River. Why does the Corps want to kill these birds? For doing what comes naturally, eating fish.

It is time for the U.S. Army Corps to do a ground-up review of its entire approach to managing birds in the Columbia Estuary. The focus for recovering salmon on the Columbia River should be on addressing the primary causes of salmon decline - dam operation and habitat loss - not on killing thousands of birds that have co-existed with salmon since time immemorial.

Jump to: Background | How You Can Help | Updates | Audubon Comments | More Information | Media Coverage

Background

East Sand Island is a remarkable place. Historically no more than a shifting sandbar, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stabilized the island and used it to deposit dredge spoils from the 1940s into the 1980s. Today the island encompasses nearly 60 acres and is home to an incredible assortment of birds.

The island includes the largest breeding colony of Caspian Terns in the world, with 10,700 breeding pairs at the colony’s peak in 2008; the largest breeding colony of Double-crested Cormorants in North America, with 15,000 breeding pairs in 2013; and the largest post-breeding roost site for Brown Pelicans on the West Coast, made up of more than 10,000 individual birds. The island has been officially designated as an Important Bird Area by both the National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy.

The birds congregate on the island because it provides good nesting habitat and a steady source of fish to feed on. They also congregate there because they have been driven out of other traditional nesting areas due to concerns about fish predation. In the 1990s, the Corps deliberately relocated a Caspian Tern nesting colony to the island, and the rise in the cormorant population is tied to declines in other tern nesting colonies up and down the West Coast.

Today the island is mired in controversy. Studies demonstrate that the cormorants and terns are consuming varying amounts of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. However, the birds and fish have coexisted since time immemorial. The declines in salmon and steelhead are related to dams, habitat loss and fish hatcheries. Over the past two decades, the Audubon Society of Portland has worked to ensure that the critically important bird colonies on East Sand Island are well managed and not used as scapegoats for manmade declines in salmon and steelhead runs.

How You Can Help

Please make a donation to support our efforts to protect East Sand Island cormorants from horrific lethal control, and contact elected Oregon officials and the agencies involved in the killing. Please always remember to be polite – the folks answering the phone are not the people making the decisions. A thoughtful message is much more effective than yelling. Feel free, however, to give them your full perspective.

  • Call the U.S. Army Corps’ public affairs office at 503-808-4510 and let them know what you think of cormorant killing on East Sand Island.
  • Contact members of Oregon’s congressional delegation – by submitting a message online or calling them – and tell them you want the Corps to focus on changing the way they manage the dams rather than killing wild birds to recover salmon:
    Senator Wyden | wyden.senate.gov/contact | 503-326-7525
    Senator Merkley | merkley.senate.gov/contact | 503-326-3386
    Congressman Blumenauer | forms.house.gov/blumenauer/webforms/issue_subscribe.html | 503-231-2300
  • Contact Governor Brown’s office and tell her you want the State of Oregon to promote non-lethal solutions to salmon recovery: oregon.gov/gov/Pages/share-your-opinion.aspx | 503-378-4582
  • Contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tell them that their mission is to protect native wild birds, not to permit their wanton slaughter: 503-231-6120 
  • Contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and tell them cormorants are a natural part of the ecosystem and should be protected, not vilified. Tell them that you don’t want any more state dollars going to federal predator control programs: 503-931-2748
  • Call USDA Wildlife Services (the agency actually doing the shooting) and tell them you oppose their killing of cormorants on East Sand Island as well as their lethal control programs, which result in the deaths of more than half a million birds every year: 503-326-2346
  • Write letters to the editor:
    Oregonian: letters@oregonian.com
    Portland Tribune: emailmeform.com/builder/form/P6F64czlK9qVsdN0r2
    Statesman Journal: community.statesmanjournal.com/email/letters_to_the_editor.php
  • Stay tuned for additional opportunities.

Updates

May 22, 2016: Cormorant Litigation Update: The Federal Court in Oregon has set oral arguments in our litigation to stop the cormorant killing for August, 2016. We had hoped that he would rule prior to the start of the 2016 killing season. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Already this season the federal agencies have killed more than 2,400 birds and destroyed more than 1,000 nests. Last week the entire colony collapsed with 16,000 birds abandoning their nests. We are deeply disappointed that the government chose to expedite the killing while the court contemplated the litigation. The agencies intend to kill more than 5,000 additional birds and destroy another 20,000 nests before this project is completed in 2018 so there is still much to gain in the litigation. However, serious damage has already been done.

Past updates:

  • May 19, 2016: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the cormorant colony on East Sand Island had suffered total collapse. The U.S. Army Corps announced that more than 16,000 cormorants abandoned their nests on East Sand Island over the past weekend. This was an outcome that was predicted by Portland Audubon and other conservation groups when the government agencies launched their plan to kill thousands of cormorants and destroy thousands of nests. The federal government is responsible for the failure of the largest cormorant colony in the world.They have temporarily suspended the killing but may continue if the birds return in large numbers. See Portland Audubon's statement.

  • May 17, 2016: More than 100 people showed up for a rally at the federal building in Portland to oppose the slaughter of cormorants on East Sand Island. The Federal agencies have continued to shoot hundreds of birds each week and have begun destroying nests on the island. Audubon Society of Portland, Center for Biological Diversity and Animal Legal Defense Fund sponsored the rally. See press release. See pictures from the rally.

  • May 16, 2016: Representative Earl Blumenauer has sent a letter to the federal agencies strongly requesting that they end the killing at East Sand Island. Click here to see the letter.

  • May 9, 2016: Video taken by a group called SHARK (showing Animals Respect and Kindness) has been released showing the brutal slaughter of cormorants by federal agents. The disturbing video shows boat based agents shooting into groups of birds with shotguns, multiple birds falling from the sky, and shot birds struggling in the water. The federal agencies have put a 500 yard exclusion zone around the shooting to try and keep their killing from being seen by the public. Click here to see the video (warning-Highly graphic).

  • May 4, 2016: Today a federal court in Oregon threw out the Federal Governments Salmon Recovery Plan on the Columbia River. The judge found that the plan failed to address the primary causes of salmon declines, the federal hydropower system. In a strongly worded opinion, Judge Simon wrote that the federal agencies had repeatedly ignored the admonishments of the federal courts, had wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, and had failed to demonstrate that salmon were trending toward recovery. The judge singled out cormorant killing as something that might have been avoided if the agencies had done a sufficient job of looking at the impacts of the dams. This is the 5th time in 20 years that the federal agencies have lost on this issue. To see the ruling, click here.

  • April 27, 2016: A Federal Court in the D.C. Circuit ruled today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cormorant killing program in the Eastern United States is illegal. The court found that the program which is directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of cormorants in the Eastern United States failed to consider any alternatives other than killing cormorants and that the program could demonstrate no appreciable benefit to the fish is was supposed to protect. The ruling does not stop the killing at East Sand Island but it is important to note that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cites to this program as part of the basis to justify their program at East Sand Island: To read the ruling, click here. To learn more about the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Lawsuit, click here.

  • April 7, 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. 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.

  • February 16, 2016: Audubon Society of Portland and our co-plaintiffs continue to work to stop the Double-crested Cormorant killing on East Sand Island. The federal judge in charge of the case has indicated that he intends to rule on our lawsuit prior to the start of the 2016 season. We recently submitted a reply brief to the courts. The federal government has one more opportunity to reply in writing and then we expect the judge to hold a hearing sometime in April. Last year, despite huge public opposition, the government killed 2,346 cormorants and oiled over 5,089 nests on and around East Sand Island. They did this despite the fact that internal documents, later obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that the population on East Sand Island had already dropped below post-killing target levels before the killing was initiated, most likely due to disturbance. In other words, the government proceeded with killing birds in 2015 even though either disturbance or some other factor had caused the nesting population to drop so precipitously on the island that the governments goals could have been achieved without any killing at all.  You can view Portland Audubon's et al's Opening Brief (Motion for Summary Judgement and Supporting Memo) and Reply Brief.

  • October 27, 2015: Newly exposed documents reveal that the US Army Corps continued killing Cormorants on and around East Sand Island for months after 2015 population targets were reached. These documents from the US Army Corps reveal that Cormorant populations dropped significantly below 2015 targets by the end of May (see document). However, the US Army Corps never revealed this information and continued shooting birds and destroying nests for months afterwards. In fact, they shot approximately 2,000 birds in September and October, including more than 100 birds last week. Portland Audubon has sent a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps demanding an explanation for why the agencies continued to slaughter birds despite having reached targets months earlier. Portland Audubon also renewed its calls to cease the killing and launch an investigation into why critical information appears to have not been considered, disclosed or acted upon (see letter).

  • October 1, 2015: Congressman Blumenauer sent a letter to the US Army Corps, Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries questioning the killing on East Sand Island. Congressman Blumenauer wrote in part:

    "Taxpayers in Oregon and across the country expect that when a federal agency reviews its options for a species management plan, it considers all available science. Further, I believe that the needless killing of any species is a tactic used only as a last resort, when all alternative methods have been deemed inferior. The Corps, NOAA Fisheries, and FWS have a responsibility to base their decisions on sound science and ensure that their actions are justified and will achieve their stated goals. Having acknowledged this, I do not understand why your agencies would approve, or at the very least not postpone implementation of a plan to kill thousands of birds if you were aware of scientific research demonstrating that it would be ineffective."

    Thanks to Representative Blumenauer for demanding accountability from the federal agencies. To see the whole letter, click here.

  • September 23, 2015OPB has posted the first footage of federal agents using shotguns to kill cormorants near East Sand Island. Over 850 birds have been killed to date with a goal of more than 4,000 this season.
  • September 14, 2015: Federal Government resumes cormorant slaughter on East Sand Island despite analysis showing that killing cormorants will not help recover salmon and despite the fact that 2015 cormorant population targets were achieved on East Sand Island in June. See Audubon press release and US Army Corps email stating that killing is proceeding even though it has already reached 2015 targets.
  • August 12, 2015 Update: Government documents show that US Fish and Wildlife Service hid analysis showing that killing cormorants will not help recover salmon. Audubon calls for investigation. See press release, Analysis and Timeline
  • May 27, 2015: Audubon Society of Portland calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop the killing of Double-crested Cormorants
  • May 11, 2015: Court permits cormorant slaughter to move forward
  • April 29, 2015: The Audubon Society of Portland and four other plaintiffs have submitted a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. The Corps has agreed to hold off on killing any birds on East Sand Island until the date of the hearing. View the motion and brief for the preliminary injunction.
  • April 24, 2015: A visit to the edge of East Sand Island
  • April 23, 2015: U.S. Army Corps' and other federal agencies' responses to Audubon questions regarding East Sand Island cormorant killing
  • April 20, 2015: Lawsuit filed to stop cormorant slaughter by federal agencies
  • April 14, 2015: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approves slaughter of Double-crested Cormorants
  • March 20, 2015: US Army Corps of Engineers announces it will move forward with plan to slaughter 11,000 cormorants
  • Feb. 9, 2015: Audubon Society of Portland statement on US Army Corps of Engineers Double-crested Cormorant management plan
  • June 27, 2014: Stop the cormorant slaughter on East Sand Island
  • June 13, 2014: Audubon Society of Portland opposes cormorant slaughter on East Sand Island

What Audubon Is Doing

  • Urging the Corps and federal decision-makers to stop the killing.
  • Continuing forward with our lawsuit – along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlife Center of the North Coast, Friends of Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fund and Earthrise Law Center – to stop the killing. The lawsuit is scheduled to be resolved before the 2016 nesting season.
  • Urging the Corps to allow independent monitors and media to observe and record the killing—the public has a right to see what the government is doing to our wildlife.
  • Monitoring activity on East Sand Island as much as possible to document Corps activities.
  • Fighting for responsible management of other species on East Sand Island including Caspian Terns, gulls and Brown Pelicans.
  • Conducting media and public outreach to ensure the public remains aware of and engaged in this issue.
  • Exploring opportunities for direct action to bring attention to the slaughter on East Sand Island.

Audubon Comments on Army Corps Activities on East Sand Island

More Information

Media Coverage

For more information, contact Audubon Society of Portland conservation director Bob Sallinger: bsallinger@audubonportland.org | 503-292-6855 x110.


Double-crested Cormorant - Scott Carpenter
Double-crested Cormorant - Scott Carpenter
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