In a bid to save the embattled salmon in the Columbia River, federal officials have come up with plans to kill about 11,000 double-crested cormorants who have been eating too many young salmon and steelhead trout.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which revealed the plan that comes in the form of a final Environmental Impact Statement and is currently being reviewed, has proposed shooting 11,000 of the large black seabirds, down from what was previously proposed, over a period of four years.
If the plan gets the final approval, state agriculture workers would be shooting the birds as well as spraying their eggs with vegetable oil to prevent the young birds from hatching.
Diana Fredlund, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps, said that this plan is preferable over another alternative that involves killing 18,000 of the predatory birds by 2018.
"This is a difficult situation," Fredlund said. "We are trying to balance the salmon and steelhead versus the birds. It's very difficult to find the right answer and so it's taken us a long time. We've had a lot of experts working on it."
Although the corps also considered other alternatives, such as hazing the birds so they would get off the island, Fredlund pointed out that the problem posed by the birds would just be shifted elsewhere.
The action came after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Biological Opinion was released last year. It called for a reduction of the bird's population from the current 13,000 breeding pairs to at least 6,000 or fewer four years from now.
Officials said that the birds eat young salmon and as a result, put the population of the fish at risk. Many juvenile salmon and steelhead were listed under the Endangered Species Act as either threatened or endangered.
In response to this proposal, the Audubon Society of Portland said that what really threatens the population of the salmon are fish hatcheries, habitat loss and dams.
Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the local Audubon Society, said that the birds appear to be the scapegoat, but the primary causes of the declining salmon population are not being addressed.
Sallinger added that the society has plans to fight the decision of the corps and that this could be finalized mid-March at the soonest. He also said that the society plans to go to court to stop the plan.