Let me start by saying today’s post has nothing to do with art.
Before becoming a professional artist, my career was in wildlife management, so after seeing this article, “US Army Corps of Engineers announces it will move forward with plan to slaughter 11,000 cormorants“, I was ticked off. Not for what most would consider the obvious point–that 11,00 birds were going to be culled–but because this proposed action to address the problem of improving survival rates of juvenile salmon and steelhead fish is short-sighted, irresponsible, and unethical.
It is a fact of the world we live in: many wildlife populations simply have to be managed. Providing a long term management plan for a species population is a responsible approach, an approach that takes many factors into consideration and allows for changes to be made that do not have catastrophic consequences. Problems with wildlife populations do not happen overnight, so why do we expect to implement a solution that promises to resolve it that quickly? Quite simply, we shouldn’t.
If the Corps obtains the permits from US Fish and Wildlife to move forward, 15 percent of the Double-crested Cormorant population west of the Rocky Mountains will be reduced below a sustainable level, meaning the species will likely not recover. Does this action consider all the reasons for salmon decline? No. It is a temporary fix at best.
The Corps plans to implement the culling while the cormorants tend to their nests. Not all of the birds shot will be killed. Many will simply be injured. Wildlife rehabilitation centers will be inundated with sick, wounded, and traumatized birds.
Let’s talk baby birds. When the adult birds are killed traveling to/from their nesting sites, the orphaned chicks will be left to starve. Not only is this unethical, but disease can spread to the remaining population.
A Better Plan…
During the next two to four months, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will be working with local governments to haze cormorants in six coastal estuaries. (Hazing is a process that is used to temporarily disrupt the birds natural feeding patterns, allowing the fish to move through the estuaries unharmed.) During hazing, the birds are not harmed. Small boats are taken into the estuaries and the birds are distracted from feeding with sounds of small firecrackers. Hopefully hazing will be effective enough in the short term to halt the Corps straight culling approach…or at least effective enough to buy time to develop a long term management strategy for the cormorant that addresses the key issue: improving the survival rate of the juvenile salmon and steelhead fish.
Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, a wonderfully humorous article has come to light written from the perspective of the cormorant who could not say it better. Check it out on Audubon here: The Corps, the Cormorants, And the Cull