June 1, 2016
SHARK spent an intense three weeks on the Columbia River documenting the horrific slaughter of cormorants by the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
When we first arrived on the river, the killers from the notorious Wildlife Services division of USDA, afraid we would video-document their cruelty for the public to see, did not kill any birds while we were on the water. Angry by our mere presence on the river, representatives from Army Corps and USDA went to the Coast Guard and demanded they give their boat a so-called “Safety Zone” which would exclude any boat from being within an astonishing 1,000 yards from the killers boat. The Coast Guard agreed to give them a 500 yard exclusionary zone, which was still a ridiculously large area that had nothing to do with safety.
It was clear that this was done specifically to suppress our First Amendment rights, so we launched a lawsuit in federal court against the exclusionary zone. In the meantime, no longer able to be close to the Wildlife Services boat, we deployed expensive, high-tech equipment that allowed us to film the killing from afar. The video we captured of cormorants being slaughtered was ground-breaking, as never before had the cruelty committed by Wildlife Services been documented in such a way.
United States Secretary of the Interior
Daniel M. Ashe
Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Deputy Inspector General
U.S. Department of the Interior
Our coalition of organizations is writing to demand that a full and independent investigation be undertaken into the disastrous collapse of the cormorant colony on East Sand Island, and potential violations of the Migratory Bird Act committed by the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) and their partners in the Wildlife Services division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Army Corps asked for and was given a depredation permit (available upon request) from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that allowed it to both kill cormorants and destroy their nests. The permit states that, “…up to 750 nests may be destroyed…” In the USFWS document for renewal of the depredation permit, "Final_2016_DCCO_MB62133B-0,” it states, “Nest loss through egg oiling (addling)” is 5,247." Between the highly invasive process of disrupting nests through egg addling, and the out-right destruction of nests, it was Army Corps’ intent to have a serious impact on cormorant nests on the island.
Army Corps deployed Wildlife Services to do the killing. On the Army Corps’ website, it stated that there were nest oiling activities on May 11, and that there was a “significant disturbance” sometime between May 13 and 16th. They also stated that Wildlife Services were killing cormorants on the river on May 16th, meaning that not only did the birds have their nests destroyed around the time of the “significant disturbance” but that Wildlife Services was slaughtering the animals as well.
Such destructive behavior by Wildlife Services, on behalf of Army Corps, in the time frame of the abandonment is the only logical reason for why the cataclysm occurred.
On May 4th, US District Judge Michael Simon issued a ruling that rejected the federal governments plan for protecting salmon, which included the cormorant slaughter. As recorded on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s website, he went as far as stating that, “...reconsidering their options for protecting salmon could lead the agencies to the conclusion that they don’t need to kill cormorants.” In that same article, Army Corps spokeswoman Amy Echols stated, “We’re not going to stop our management actions at this particular moment.”
A little more than a week after Judge Simon ruled, there was a mass-abandonment of nests on East Sand Island. The most logical conclusion is that Army Corps feared the ramifications of the judge’s decision and pressed hard to fulfill their depredation permit before any further legal actions could be taken, and that resulted in the disaster on East Sand Island.
The role of USFWS facilitating the disaster cannot be ignored either. On USFWS’ own website, it states that, "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responsibilities include the conservation and management of double-crested cormorants, which are included on the list of protected migratory birds.”
Army Corps was only able to kill cormorants and destroy their nests because USFWS gave them the permit to do so. That USFWS appears to have let the killing program go without any oversight is a serious breach of their responsibilities. USFWS must never again issue a depredation permit for East Sand Island and all such permits issued across our nation should immediately be halted and reviewed to prevent any similar disasters.
We suspect that both Army Corps and USDA will not be forthcoming to the public about their actions. This is why we are calling for all members of Wildlife Services who participated in operations on the Columbia River be compelled to testify under oath about their actions, and that all documents relating to this issue be collected before they can be destroyed.
Due to the numerous conflicts of interests within the agencies responsible for the cormorant killing program, we are calling for an agreed upon representative from the animal protection community to be part of the investigation.
As is stated on USFWS website, "The largest breeding colony of double-crested cormorants in western North America, and likely all of North America, resides on East Sand Island.”
That statement, we are sad to report, is no longer true. The responsibility for that tragedy falls upon Army Crops, Wildlife Services, and USFWS.
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