Feds taking comment on cormorant control

Green Bay, Wis. – For more than a decade, Great Lakes anglers
have complained about the potential impacts of double-crested
cormorants on sport and commercial fish species in Green Bay and
Lake Michigan.

Some, too, have called the barren, colonized islands on Green
Bay eyesores, and complained about the stench when boating downwind
of them.

It’s been a long process, but there’s finally light at the end
of the tunnel, if indeed those same fishermen and boaters take the
time to make their feelings known one last time.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services, the Interior Department’s
Fish and Wildlife Service and its Horicon, Green Bay, and Gravel
Islands National Wildlife Refuges, and the Wisconsin DNR have
drafted a plan to reduce cormorant damage and conflicts in
Wisconsin.

One of the proposed alternatives identified in a 157-page
Environmental Assessment would gradually cut the number of nesting
pairs on five islands off Green Bay and northern Door County to
about half of what they are now.

There’s one glitch, however: Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
Manager Patti Meyers – who also oversees the Spider and Pilot
Island National Wildlife refuges off Northern Door County – won’t
allow Wildlife Services to go onto the islands to oil eggs. If only
three of the five colonized islands can be treated, it would be a
setback to management efforts.

Paul Peeters, the DNR’s fisheries team supervisor at Sturgeon
Bay, said the public has only until Sept. 25 to comment for or
against cormorant management, and it must be done in writing.

“Do you agree with managing cormorants and cutting the
population in half?” Peeters asked. “Is that too extreme, or
doesn’t it go far enough? We really do need the public to share its
opinions with us to help guide cormorant management in the
future.”

Peeters said the parties involved have pretty much written off
the five islands – Spider, Pilot, Hat, Jack, and Cat – to the
cormorants. The plan is to only allow those colonies to exist, and
“take out” any new ones that would pop up.

Cat Island, in lower Green Bay near the city of the same name,
has more than 2,000 nesting pairs. It would be managed for 1,000.
The others, all off of northern Door County, have more than 10,000
nesting pairs and would be managed for 5,000.

Cormorant management likely will cost tens of thousands of
dollars each year, Peeters said, and there’s concern it could
impact other department programs. Where the money will come from is
still unknown.

Double-crested cormorants consume millions of fish a year, a mix
of sport, rough, and baitfish species. There were an estimated
14,970 nesting pairs on Green Bay in 2007, up from 2,213 in 1985.
The birds were state-listed as endangered in 1972. More than 80
percent of the current state population is in the Lower Green Bay
and Door County areas. The birds also can contribute to damage and
conflicts elsewhere as they migrate through Wisconsin in spring and
fall.

The Environmental Assessment proposes an “integrated wildlife
damage management” approach to reduce cormorant damage to property,
aquaculture, and natural resources, and cormorant-related risks to
public safety. Cormorant damage management could be conducted
anywhere in Wisconsin, but the plan emphasizes the Green Bay and
Lake Winnebago areas where concerns about cormorant impacts on
fish, vegetation, and co-nesting water birds like black-crowned
night-herons and great egrets are greatest.

Under the proposed alternative, physical exclusion, habitat
modification, or harassment would be used to reduce double-crested
cormorant damage when appropriate. In other situations, cormorant
populations might be managed by shooting, egg oiling or
destruction, nest destruction, or euthanasia following live
capture.

Other management approaches considered include an alternative
limiting federal agencies to only using non-lethal methods, an
option limiting federal involvement to technical advice, and an
approach with no federal involvement in cormorant damage
management.

Electronic copies of the Environmental Analysis on
double-crested cormorant damage management are available at
www.fws.gov/midwest/MidwestBird/cormorants.htm.
Hard copies may be obtained by contacting USDA-APHIS Wildlife
Services, 732 Lois Dr., Sun Prairie, WI 53590, calling (608)
837-2727, or faxing (608) 837-6754.

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