The findings of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, internally circulated in September 2014 and recently released to the public under a court order, have got conservationists baffled: the results look contradictory to the recently approved plan to kill thousands of native cormorants to save threatened fish.

Killing cormorants may cause no help or alteration in the populations of salmon and steelhead, concluded Steve Haeseker, a fish and wildlife scientist, in the report. The fish populations would fall prey to other fish and predators even in the absence of the cormorants.

The suggestions contained in the report prompted conservationists to strongly request an investigation after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service favored the killing of about 11,000 double-crested cormorants and the destruction of 26,000 nests in the next four years despite knowledge of the non-effect of such intervention on the populations of the fish.

The killing missions, which started in spring, were assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A number of contracted personnel have begun shooting birds and infusing oil into nests to prevent eggs from hatching. According to the conservationists, the federal department has already killed 180 birds and has wrecked about thousands of nests on East Sand Island.

"We believe this goes beyond simply killing cormorants," said Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland. The incidents are all about the wildlife service and its integrity. Sallinger believes that the federal agency is implementing policies that refute its own research.

In 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave its opinion about reducing the bird population to below 6,000 breeding pairs by 2018. At present, the breeding pairs are estimated at 13,000.

In April, five conservation and animal welfare organizations filed a lawsuit against the USDA Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt the bird killings. The complainants argue that the federal government has been unsuccessful in formulating non-lethal interventions to control the cormorants and that it has been ignoring the group's opinion that the real source of threat to fish populations are hydroelectric dams.

"The killing needs to stop now," said Collette Adkins, attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Photo: Andrea Westmoreland | Flickr

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