Born Free USA Canadian Blog by Barry Kent MacKay
|Posted: 27 May 2016 01:37 PM PDT
It is impolite to say “I told you so,” but I did. And, so did many scientists and experts who, starting about 19 years ago, objected to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s issuance of “depredation orders” to 24 states east of the Mississippi River, allowing them to kill off what had previously been a federally protected bird species: the double-crested cormorant.
While subject to challenge, a federal court found the Service in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. This does not prevent permits to kill these birds from being issued for a specific need to protect economic interests of such aquaculturists as catfish farmers.
It was a court challenge by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that highlighted the lack of logic and science behind the culling. As PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais said, “This litigation revealed how much politics, rather than biology, drives the Service’s decision making.”
Exactly. We have long argued, and continue to argue, that, just as the court ruled, the predictions of adverse eco-effects and economic disruption were imprecise and speculative—and failed to take into account positive ecological roles played by cormorants.
As the court decision was made public, news broke of a massive abandonment of nests by cormorants at the East Sand Island colony in the Columbia River delta in Oregon. “Mysteriously,” some 16,000 cormorants fled their nests. Those birds had been subjected to massive culling, even though scientists there, too, pointed out that the culling would not serve the purpose intended (to increase salmon stocks). Study after study has shown that, apart from some highly contrived and local situations, cormorants do not deplete valued fish stocks.
But, cormorants are dedicated parents who stay with their nests, even under pressure of gunfire (at least up to a point). Whatever chased the cormorants in Oregon, it demonstrates the inherent fragility of the species. The culling done in Oregon was far more disruptive than the methods I still see used by Parks Canada here in Ontario.
Cormorants and fish have co-existed for tens of millions of years. What has resulted in the declines of so many fish species worldwide is us—or, more specifically, the development of technology that vastly increases our ability to catch fish while also leading to degradation of fish habitat.
It may be easier to blame the cormorants, but they are opportunistic feeders entirely dependent on a robust population of prey. So, they can hardly be responsible for real (or imagined) declines in salmon, walleyes, sunfish, bass, or any other fish we may covet.
But, it is easier to blame them than to speak truth to greed and ignorance; easier to hate than to understand basic ecological principles. However, once you do take the time to know cormorants, you find them to be fascinating birds deserving of their place in the sun… in our world… as fellow beings part of the interconnected and interdependent network of species that constitutes a biosphere that we, not they, are damaging.
Keep wildlife in the wild,