A Sad Victory for Ignorance
As many readers will know, Animal Alliance of Canada has been fighting to defend Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario for more than 14 years. We do this in spite of knowing that cormorants are an unpopular species; reviled by some, unknown to many, understood and appreciated by relatively few.
We fight to protect cormorants knowing that all wild animals play an important role in the ecosystem they inhabit and have an inherent right to exist. We are playing the ‘long game.’ Success will be hard won and will likely take years to achieve.
And we know that this is a battle that we must fight and cannot abandon. The entire concept of scapegoating a particular species is, at its core, an inhumane and environmentally unsound concept – a concept rooted in ignorance. This scientifically indefensible concept is used to kill other species, including wolves, coyotes, seals and deer. They are all animal scapegoats.
Too often ignorance wins. And, we are sad to inform you, in Ontario ignorance has won again – for now.
Truth in Numbers
Ontario’s government has passed a new hunting regulation that will allow hunters who hold small game permits – that’s approximately 197,000 hunters – to kill up to 15 cormorants a day. The new hunting season will run from September 15 to December 31 – a total of 111 days.
That’s 111 days for about 197,000 hunters to each kill as many as 15 birds a day.
Provincial bird counts have estimated that there are approximately 143,000 adult, breeding cormorants in the province. It’s easy to see that Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario could be brought to near extinction in just one season.
And there is no expectation that these birds are being killed for consumption. Indeed, it’s reported that cormorants are not ‘good to eat’. The new hunting regulation simply states that the carcasses must be buried on private land or disposed of at an approved waste disposal site for dead animals.
Killing animals simply for the sake of killing is often referred to as “slob hunting.” And this is what Ontario’s government has agreed to, after being lobbied by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH).
So, we need to ask – why has the OFAH been so determined to have a new hunting season opened for another species of wildlife? Why is Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government so willing to comply?
AAC Director and Naturalist, Barry Kent MacKay discussed this in his article, “Why So Many People Hate Cormorants.” He explains how hunting lobby groups, like the OFAH, play a role in Canada that is similar to the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States. Both organizations are successful political lobbyists who are able to dominate their spheres of interest, even though they do not represent a majority of citizens:
“Hunters pay license fees that go into government coffers, and membership fees and donations that fund the NRA and OFAH and payments to outfitters, and equipment suppliers such as gun, ammo and hunting gear producers and retailers. It’s a symbiotic relationship of intertwined and interdependent interests.”
These special interest lobbyists have proven to be powerful political influencers, and wild animals routinely pay the price.
The Science of Cormorants in Ontario
Do cormorants ‘destroy’ natural lands, as those who lobbied for this hunt claim?
No. But they do change lands.
As Barry Kent MacKay explains in another article, “Ford’s War on Double-crested Cormorants, but what about Pelicans?” cormorants do change lands as part of a natural cycle that has taken place throughout history.
AAC staffers have travelled by boat to Middle Island and other islands in Lake Erie for about 12 years. Animal Alliance monitors the annual killing, conducted by Parks Canada, and observes the health of the ecosystem and migratory bird populations who nest in the region.
There is clear evidence of some die-off of trees, as does take place where cormorants nest. Their guano is acidic and rich in nutrients, and over time, will kill some of the trees where they nest. But, this is a slow process, and part of a natural cycle. In July 2020 we witnessed for ourselves that Middle Island, East Sister Island and others in Lake Erie are still green and rich in vegetation. To describe these islands as “destroyed” is a gross misrepresentation.
We have also witnessed how peacefully cormorants co-exist with other species, like Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Great Egrets. We have seen for ourselves how these species nest in close proximity to each other and in apparent harmony. Each of these tree-nesting species makes use of the trees to nest at various elevations.
If Cormorants are not Welcome in a “Bird Sanctuary”, then Where?
We have seen how the entire colony of birds is disturbed when Parks Canada employees enter the island to shoot cormorants while they sit on their nests. We have seen for ourselves how a peaceful day in a migratory bird nursery is shattered when the banging of guns frightens the birds into flight, driven off of their nests and the eggs they are incubating and sheltering.
There is even a sign on Middle Island,
declaring the island to be a bird sanctuary.
A sanctuary is usually defined as a place of refuge, safety, and asylum. Yet Middle Island is a ‘sanctuary’ where federally-funded employees routinely kill birds when they are at their most vulnerable due to their strong instinct to incubate their eggs.
Why the Ecosystem Needs Cormorants in Ontario
The anti-cormorant lobbyists accuse cormorants of having a harmful effect on other species. We have witnessed the exact opposite.
Meanwhile, humans with guns are purported to be the saviours of wildlife — a ridiculous concept.
As cormorants change natural lands, other species benefit.
We have been thrilled to see in recent years American White Pelicans appearing in the area. It is evident that this migratory species is extending their range as they seek out more nesting sites. Middle Island and other areas in the region are of great interest to the them.
And, here is where things get really interesting. Pelicans do not nest in trees; they are ground-nesters. They look for areas of sparse vegetation to nest, areas like those being opened up by cormorants. The changes that cormorants cause in the ecosystem in which they inhabit benefits ground-nesting species, like American White Pelicans, allowing them a period to rebound. This is all part of the ebb and flow of plant and animal life that is essential to every ecosystem.
Human self-interest, arrogance, and yes – ignorance – are at odds with these natural cycles.
That’s why this fight will be such a long one. This is not a short-term battle but a very long war.
How You Can Help
We are pushing back against human hubris, the belief that the natural world cannot right itself and manage its processes without constant human interference. Our work is in direct opposition to those whose entire careers depend on the concept that tweaking, killing and manipulating the natural world is better than allowing natural cycles developed over millennia to work themselves out. We are pushing against the profit-motive of commercial businesses that rely on social acceptance of the killing of wild animals as a form of entertainment. And we are pushing against political interests that depend on votes from special interest groups clustered in rural ridings – ridings that political parties need in order to form the coveted ‘majority government.’
We will not be fooled into believing that this new hunting regulation has anything to do with protecting the environment. It is about political, commercial and career interests at the expense of vulnerable animals.
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters can rely on donations from those who profit from animal exploitation, like those who sell guns, ammunition and fishing gear.
We rely on people who care deeply about animals. We rely on you.
Please consider donating to support our work. We cannot promise you a quick result. We can promise – and have demonstrated – that we will not give up.
This is a ‘long game’ and one that must be played. This a fight that we cannot abandon. Please, fight with us.
Read concerns expressed by First Nations Chief Scott McLeod on the new Cormorant hunting regulation: