Operation cormorant cull tops 2,500; goal in sight

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

Walker, Minn. – Wildlife officials are close to meeting their
goal of culling 80 percent of the nesting cormorants from Little
Pelican Island on Leech Lake.

Federal sharpshooters have killed more than 2,500 birds since
early May, and plan to shoot for another week or two. There were
more than 4,000 nesting birds on the island this year. Once 3,000
of them are taken, officials will evaluate the situation with
aerial photography and ground counts, said John Ringle, natural
resources director for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

The plan is to leave 500 nesting pairs on the island.
Cormorants, a fish-eating bird, are blamed for a deficiency of
small walleyes in Leech Lake.

The end of the culling is apparently near, just as Gov. Tim
Pawlenty signed a bill to allow the use of silenced firearms for
wildlife control. Officials hoped to use silenced .22-caliber
rifles for the culling, but had to wait for the bill to pass. In
the meantime, they used high-powered air rifles.

“We’re probably not looking at being able to use (silenced
rifles) this year,” said Bill Paul of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, the agency responsible for culling
the birds.

In addition to the timing of the bill, there’s also confusion
over the bill’s language. Specifically, the bill says the
commissioner of the DNR must authorize the use, but Little Pelican
Island, where the cormorants are being killed from two elevated
blinds, is on tribal land.

Though Ringle thought those issues could be worked out, “We
think we can accomplish our objective maintaining the tact we are

Using silenced .22s would have accomplished the task earlier,
Paul said. Whereas shooters are taking 200 to 300 cormorants per
day with air rifles – for the last two weeks, they’ve been on the
island one day per week – they likely could have taken 500 per day
with .22s.

Air rifles have a range of about 30 yards; .22s range between 50
and 60 yards, Paul said.

The bill Pawlenty recently signed into law allows the DNR
commissioner to authorize the use of silenced firearms until July
1, 2011, “for wildlife control operations that require

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