- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Armed with rifles equipped with silencers, government hunters have started shooting seabirds on an uninhabited island at the mouth of the Columbia River, to reduce their consumption of juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged Wednesday that wildlife control personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services started over the weekend implementing the corps’ plan to cut by more than half the numbers of double-crested cormorants nesting on East Sand Island between Oregon and Washington, where they eat millions of juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean. The island is the biggest double-crested cormorant nesting site in North America, and some of the salmon are protected species.

Bob Winters, program manager for the corps, said a team of three to four wildlife control personnel armed with .22-caliber rifles would be killing birds on the island through August. The goal is to reduce the colony from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 pairs by 2018.

The Audubon Society of Portland has challenged the killing in a federal lawsuit that argues the corps is ignoring the biggest threat to salmon, hydroelectric dams on the Columbia. Conservation director Bob Sallinger called on the corps to allow independent observers on the island so the public can know how the killing is being carried out, and to call off the killing until the lawsuit has run its course.

“The idea of turning the largest cormorant colony in the United States into as shooting gallery and killing cormorants on the nest is a low point in terms of recent wildlife management efforts,” Sallinger said.

Winters said Wildlife Services personnel are focusing on portions of the colony where eggs have yet to hatch, so as not to create a situation where chicks are left without parents to feed them. Numbers of how many birds have been killed and eggs oiled to prevent them from hatching are to be posted on a corps website on Thursdays each week.

He added that the corps has a contract with people who are verifying the culling is being done in accordance with the environmental impact statement.

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